Less than 20 years after it allowed universal suffrage in presidential elections, Taiwan is marking another milestone — the first contest for its highest office between two women.
That would mean the first woman president for the world’s only Chinese democracy.
The contest is between deputy legislative speaker Hung Hsiu-chu of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and opposition candidate Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party.
Neither Hung, 67, nor the 58-year-old Tsai comes from a politically active or influential family. Instead, both rose up the ranks over years in government, according to the BBC.
This follows a trend in Asia of women being elected national leaders but unlike examples in other countries including Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea, neither Hung nor Tsai has a father, brother, or husband who was already in political power.
Many see this as a sign of progress in the young democracy which only began allowing universal suffrage in presidential elections in the mid-1990s.
While the Republic of China has never had a female leader since it was founded 100 years ago, women have played influential roles in its nation building or diplomacy.
They include Soong Ching-ling, the wife of the republic’s founder Dr Sun Yat-sen, as well as Soong Mei-ling, the wife of former president Chiang Kai-shek.
Taiwan had a female vice president, Annette Lu, from 2000 to 2008.
Nicknamed little hot pepper for her outspokenness, Hung, a former high school teacher and counselor, has been a loyal KMT member from a young age.
She stepped up to the plate at a time when few in her party wanted to run after it suffered a crushing defeat in local elections last year.
Tsai, a former professor and trained lawyer, served as vice premier and head of the Mainland Affairs Council during a period of tense relations with China.
She ran in the presidential race in 2012 and lost, but is leading in the opinion polls this time.
Hung and her party favour closer ties with China, seeing it as crucial to Taiwan’s economic growth while Tsai and her party have raised fears that closer ties could threaten the island’s sovereignty and independence.
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