Taiwan votes: A look at the hot-button issues

A member of the New Power Party displaying the party flag during a protest against food safety in Taipei on Dec 12, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Taiwan's relations with China has grabbed much of the attention this election. But there are other issues too that voters are concerned with. A look at these key issues, and the candidates' stand on them.

1. Economy

With an economy in the doldrums, stagnant pay and widening inequality, the incumbent Kuomintang (KMT) is caught flat-footed.

The independence- leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is lambasting the ruling party for "outdated" solutions such as tax cuts and liberalisation.

Outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou's argument for closer ties with China - that it will benefit Taiwan economically - also has not bore fruit for Taiwanese workers and small businesses, said the DPP.

A construction worker climbs a scaffolding outside a shopping centre under renovation in Taipei in this file photo from March 22, 2011. PHOTO: REUTERS

Presidential candidate and frontrunner Tsai Ing-wen, 59, who leads the DPP, said she wants to attract more investment, encourage businesses to innovate and ensure fair distribution of wealth.

Specifically, she calls for domestically produced military hardware and technology such as submarines.

Mr Eric Chu, KMT chairman, has proposed boosting the economy by raising the national minimum wage from NT$20,008 (S$862) to NT$22,200 in his first year in office and to NT$30,000 in four years' time.

2. Housing

Housing costs are at a high, frustrating young voters in particular.

The candidates have thus gone all out to try to convince them that they will do whatever it takes to boost supply.

Both Dr Tsai and Mr Chu, 54, have similar plans - to create 200,000 social (youth and public) housing units using vacant buildings.

Dr Tsai also plans to incentivise construction firms to reserve some of their projects for social housing.

People First Party chairman James Soong, the third presidential candidate, said that the government could also impose punitive taxes on property owners who are unwilling to rent out unused units.

3. Education

Taiwanese students are among the most stressed out in the region, and in an attempt to reduce this, Dr Tsai is calling for a drastic overhaul of the 12-year compulsory education system by doing away with exams altogether.

It is a clearly populist move - one that has been criticised by experts.

Professor Wu Wu-tien from the special education department at National Taiwan Normal University tells The Straits Times that the proposal is "like a fantasy idea, detached from reality".

"Without exams, you still need to rank students to determine which universities they go to, and if you use subjective measures like music ability, all it does is to benefit the music centres and create even more stress."

He called for the candidates to look into problems such as the need to streamline the tertiary landscape (Taiwan currently has 160 plus universities) and fixing the gap in educational standards between the cities and the countryside.

4. Food safety

Taiwan suffered a hit to its self-image when a spate of food safety scandals came to light in 2013 and 2014. Cooking oil sold by food conglomerates were found to have been tainted with waste oil including grease.

It has been cited as a factor in the KMT's defeat during local elections in 2014, and has emerged again as a topic in this campaign.

During a campaign debate, Dr Chen Chien-jen, who is Dr Tsai's running mate, accused the KMT government of being incompetent in managing the crises.

5. Political wrangling

The long-standing feud between the pan-blue (pro-unification) and pan-green (pro-independence) coalitions has been blamed for paralysing policy-making in Taiwan and heightening political cynicism.

Mr Soong, 73, and other small parties are tapping into this vein of unhappiness, by presenting themselves as alternatives.

Mr Soong's running mate Ms Hsu Hsin-ying has stressed her relative youth (she is 43) saying that she therefore comes with "less baggage."

During a debate, she called for both camps to stop their political feuding. "Stop wrangling, stop wrangling, stop wrangling," she said. "It is important so I have to repeat it three times."

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