TAIPEI - Taiwan's electorate wants a change in government because the ruling administration does not listen to the people, Ms Tsai Ing-wen, front runner in Taiwan's presidential election, said in a debate yesterday.
Ms Tsai, chairman of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), pledged to reform the efficiency of the government and ensure transparency during her 21/2-hour debate with ruling party candidate Eric Chu and People First Party candidate James Soong.
"What people have felt most about President Ma Ying-jeou's administration has been the huge distance between the people and the government," Ms Tsai said in her opening remarks during the second and last televised presidential debate prior to the Jan 16 election.
The current administration's attitude towards the public "has been very persistent" and it has turned a deaf ear to the people's aspiration for "no more chaos", she was quoted by the Central News Agency (CNA) as saying.
Ms Tsai, widely considered a shoo-in to win the election, cited several incidents over the past years, including the death of a soldier who was abused, a spate of food safety scandals and inner struggles within the ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT).
She also lashed out at Mr Ma for being too opinionated on cross-strait policy, citing the attempt by the KMT-dominated legislature to ram through a cross-strait trade-in-services agreement in 30 seconds, and changes made to high school history books that students were opposed to.
"The DPP has never excluded economic and trade exchanges with China," Ms Tsai said.
"But we pay attention to the management of the risks."
She also pledged that she and her family members engaged in cross-strait affairs will be wary of conflicts of interest. "I myself and my family members will never invest in the mainland or have any trading activity," she said.
Mr Chu challenged Ms Tsai to give unequivocal answers and avoid "muddled political rhetoric" on issues, including Taiwan's policy on cross-strait relations, the possible reversal of an all-volunteer military and the import of American pork, the CNA said.
He implored the voters not to "vent their anger on Taiwan" by electing Ms Tsai just because they are dissatisfied with Taiwan, Mr Ma or himself.
Mr Soong said in the debate that he would help small and medium-sized enterprises boost exports by about NT$300 billion (S$13 billion) in four years.
He also proposed a "trident plan" aimed at creating three Singapore-like free trade zones in northern, central and southern Taiwan, the CNA reported yesterday.
Taiwan's relations with China have come under the spotlight as the democratically ruled island prepares to choose a successor to Mr Ma, whose rapprochement policy culminated in a first-of-its-kind meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last November.
Ms Tsai, whose party officially supports independence, was holding a wide lead, with 41.1 per cent support, the Liberal Times reported last Friday, citing an opinion poll conducted by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research.
The same poll also showed that Mr Soong, whose support had risen to 16.8 per cent, was catching up with Mr Chu, who has 17.5 per cent.
China's Communist Party, which still considers Taiwan a province, passed a law in 2005 allowing an attack if the island formalises the split.