Leader of Taiwan's independence leaning-DPP tops last election survey before polling blackout

Taiwan's DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen waving to supporters in New Taipei City on Jan 4, 2016.
Taiwan's DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen waving to supporters in New Taipei City on Jan 4, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - The leader of Taiwan's independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), an organisation loathed by rulers in giant neighbour China, was top of the last opinion poll on Tuesday (Jan 5) before a polling blackout begins ahead of the Jan 16 elections.

The poll by Taiwan's Cross-Strait Policy Association showed 45.2 per cent of 1,052 people surveyed supported Ms Tsai Ing-wen, chairman of the DPP, while 16.3 per cent backed Mr Eric Chu, chairman and candidate for the ruling Nationalists (KMT).

The margin of Ms Tsai's expected victory is important in terms of how fiercely democratic Taiwan gets on with Communist-ruled China, which considers the island a breakaway province. The DPP has been supported by youthful voters angered by a perceived economic dependence on the mainland.

The links between Beijing and the DPP will be crucial to managing one of the world's most potentially dangerous relationships, with Taiwan facing a China that aims hundreds of missiles at the island and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing's control.

The DPP is detested by Beijing because the party believes the future of Taiwan is for its 23 million people to decide, which Beijing takes to mean independence.

China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province ever since Chiang Kai-shek's defeated Nationalists fled to the island in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists.

The association's poll showed 59-year-old Tsai's approval rating over 54 per cent for respondents aged between 20 and 34. However, it also showed that 22.4 per cent of all respondents were undecided about their presidential pick.

Support for Ms Tsai rose by one percentage point from the last poll in late December by the association, made up of prominent scholars and bipartisan figures. In comparison, Mr Chu's rating was down by 5.8 percentage points.

Surveys in recent months have shown Ms Tsai holding on average a double-digit lead against her rivals, who include a third presidential candidate from a minority party. The island's 113-seat Parliament will also be up for grabs in the elections.

TVBS, a cable television channel in Taiwan, put Ms Tsai's support at 44 per cent, or 20 percentage points ahead of Chu, in a poll conducted on Saturday (Jan 3).

A poll sponsored by the Nationalists 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.