3 reasons why Taiwan looks likely to get its first female president

Ms Tsai Ing-wen (centre) waves to supporters at a local temple during an election campaign in northern Taoyuan on Jan 7, 2016.
Ms Tsai Ing-wen (centre) waves to supporters at a local temple during an election campaign in northern Taoyuan on Jan 7, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

The Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen looks poised to sweep to victory in Taiwan's Jan 16 presidential election, according to opinion polls.

Here's a look at the factors working in her favour:

1. She leads the opinion polls

Ms Tsai, 59, is the clear front runner in a race that also includes Kuomintang (KMT) chairman Eric Chu and People First Party chairman James Soong, both of whom fall in the pan-blue (or pro-unification) camp.

Ms Tsai has been holding onto a double-digit lead over her opponents in most opinion polls. In the last opinion poll on Tuesday (Jan 5) before a polling blackout kicked in ahead of the elections, she trumped her rivals by nearly 30 percentage points. 

The poll by Taiwan's Cross-Strait Policy Association showed 45.2 per cent of 1,052 people surveyed supported the DPP leader while 16.3 per cent backed Mr Chu. Mr Soong lagged behind at 16.1 per cent. 

Even a poll sponsored by the KMT and issued on Monday (Jan 4) put Ms Tsai's support at 39.2 per cent, ahead of 31.2 per cent support for Mr Chu.

2. Unpopularity of KMT and Ma Ying-jeou

The KMT is struggling to regain public support after its worst-ever local election defeat in 2014. Analysts blamed the party's poor showing on its China-friendly policy under current President Ma Ying-jeou. 

The public has become increasingly fearful of warming ties with China, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province to be brought back into its fold. There are fears, particularly among Taiwanese youth, that Beijing’s influence on the island is growing, with opponents riled by Mr Ma’s recent high-profile meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in November 2015.

With the economy in the doldrums, stagnant pay, skyrocketing housing prices and widening inequality, the KMT is caught flat-footed, and many frustrated voters say they will cast a protest vote against the incumbent’s rule in the last eight years. 

3. Eric Chu not likeable enough

Amid the KMT’s drubbing in the 2014 local elections, Mr Chu’s victory in New Taipei City was one of the party’s few bright spots. The 54-year-old had promised during the campaign to serve out his term as mayor.

But now that he is running for president, he has broken that promise, further deepening the people’s mistrust in him.

As the only leader, besides Mr Ma, to meet China's President Xi in 2015, Mr Chu is also perceived by many unhappy voters as the man who will carry on Mr Ma’s highly unpopular Beijing-friendly policies.