TAIPEI (REUTERS) - White Wolf, a former criminal gang leader who is running for Taiwan's Parliament, found himself squashed in a lift with a gaggle of young women supporting one of the island's most famous heavy metal singers and outspoken China critic Freddy Lim.
White Wolf, 67, whose real name is Chang An-lo, is running for a small party that favours unification with China. He told the women that Mr Lim, the long-haired, heavily tattooed, leather-clad singer, was good-looking. The women smiled awkwardly and mumbled that "he is all right" as they waited for the lift doors to open.
Welcome to the colourful, if sometimes weird, world of democracy in free-wheeling Taiwan, where a video of the elevator exchange did the rounds on social media, a far cry from solemn Communist Party rule in neighbouring China, which views the island as a breakaway province to be united eventually, by force if necessary.
Taiwan goes to the polls on Jan 16, when it is likely to elect its first woman president, Dr Tsai Ing-wen, who leads the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party that China loathes.
But the race for the 113-seat Parliament has seen activists and former convicts bumping up against political heirs and alleged spies.
More than 530 candidates have registered, including those who are shoo-ins when their party gets enough overall votes. For seats being contested by individuals, on average nearly five people are jostling to win one seat.
Mr Lim, 39, is the former chief of Amnesty International in Taiwan and founder of a minor pro-democracy party. But he is better known as the lead singer of Chthonic, a band that is banned in China.
"Democracy is in my blood," Mr Lim told reporters at a raucous concert in the island's capital, Taipei, recently. "If everyone here tonight just gives us one vote, then it will be enough."
Mr Lim is in a tight race against a veteran politician of the ruling Kuomintang in his district in Taipei, even though theirs is a seven- horse race. The most heavily contested district in Taipei has 12 rivals going for one seat.
Mr Wayne Chiang is up against nine rivals for his legislative seat in Taipei. It was his great-grandfather, Chiang Kai-shek, who fled with his nationalist forces from Mao Zedong's communists 66 years ago to set up government in Taiwan, which has been self-ruled since.
Then there is Mr Chang Hsien-yao, who was forced to resign in 2014 as deputy head of Taiwan's ministry in charge of China policy on suspicion that he had leaked secrets to China. The allegations were never proved, but it cost him his job.
Mr Chang is campaigning for a parliamentary seat in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second-largest city.
Chinese dissident Wu'er Kaixi, who defied the tanks which crushed democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, is also running for Parliament, representing a minor party called the Constitutional Reform Fraternity Coalition.
Mr Wu'er, who saw the lift video clip of the White Wolf and the women, said: "Those few crazy scenes authenticate this as a true democracy. If there aren't any crazy scenes like that, you have to wonder: Is this election fixed?"