With a week to go before voters in Taiwan cast ballots for president and vice-president, first-time voters are being eyed as a crucial bloc in what is shaping up as a very tight race. Some 750,000 citizens are expected to go to the polls for the first time in an electorate of 18 million voters, and their choice could be a factor in determining who will lead the island nation for the next four years.
Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has focused on young voters through Internet and campus-related activities and has expressed its confidence that DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen will take more than half of first-time votes as she bids to become Taiwan’s first female president.
“Older voters have mostly made up their minds already, but the votes of the younger generation are up for grabs. They could be a critical factor in determining the outcome of the election,” says Lin Ho-ming, vice director of the youth division in the DPP’s campaign organization.
Kaohsiung City Mayor Chen Chu, a DPP stalwart, adds that “Young people can determine Taiwan’s next step. They want to see dignity on their own soil, and they want to change Taiwan.”
Many young supporters of the DPP, which favors a more independent approach from China than the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party, are concerned that Taiwan has become overly reliant on the mainland under the President Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT.
“I think Ma is sacrificing Taiwan’s sovereignty to please China and will lead us to unification with the mainland,” says Tseng Yu-shan, a 21-year-old college student.
Other young voters support Ma’s tack, arguing that he has helped the island’s economy by signing the ECFA trade agreement and allowing in more Chinese tourists and students and other similar moves.
They are worried that ‘changing horses in mid-stream’ could put Taiwan back where it started four years ago, a retreat certain to displease many elements in China. Still others blame Ma for economic woes such as a widening income gap, rising unemployment and a sluggish economy.