Taiwan's Nationalist party wins key electionsDecember 5, 1998
Web posted at: 2:52 p.m. EST (1952 GMT)
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TAIPEI, Taiwan (CNN) -- Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party scored impressive wins in local and national elections Saturday, including a successful bid to regain the mayor's post in Taipei and a solid foothold in the newly expanded parliament, according to final results released Sunday.
The Nationalists kept control of the legislature, or Yuan, where they will hold 55 percent of the seats, compared to the 52 percent edge they took during the last election.
The ruling party will end up with 123 seats, while the opposition Democratic Progressive Party will have 70. Smaller parties will have the remaining spots in the legislature, which is expanding from 176 to 225 seats.
In the battle for Taipei's City Hall, Nationalist challenger Ma Ying-jeou, a former justice minister who ran only reluctantly, declared victory in a bitterly fought race to wrestle the mayoralty from incumbent Chen Shui-bian of the DPP. Ma won with 51 percent of the vote, compared to 46 percent for Chin.
State television showed Ma, whose squeaky clean image and youthful looks and charm have earned him the nickname "Sonny Boy Ma," with a nearly unbeatable lead over Chen, who had taken the high-profile post from the Nationalists in 1994.
Ma's supporters cheered and lit firecrackers outside his headquarters well before official results were released, while many of Chen's supporters were weeping.
While the candidates had talked mainly about addressing urban problems in Taipei, an underlying theme was differing ideas on how to deal with Beijing.
"As long as the Chinese threats remain, we can't expect voters to entrust the DPP to rule the island," said Lee Hsi- kun, a professor of political science at National Taiwan University.
The Nationalists had counted on citizens being anxious about the DPP's platform calling for a declaration of independence from China -- seen as a possible provocation for a military attack by the mainland.
Beijing promises to invade Taiwan if it moves toward independence; it considers the island a rebel territory since Nationalist Chinese forces fled the mainland for Taiwan in 1949.
Although the Nationalists defy Beijing's pressure to bring Taiwan under mainland rule, they have not give up hopes of eventual reunion, although at some future time after China itself embraces multiparty democracy.
The United States and Japan extend tacit defenses to Taiwan, but have made clear that Taipei must not provoke China.
Election officials estimated 80 percent of Taiwan's 15 million eligible voters had cast ballots.
There were no reports of serious violence at the more than 13,000 polling stations, guarded by huge barbed wire barriers and 60,000 police on special deployment, the National Police Administration said.
Police said more than 10 voters were arrested for damaging their ballot papers, a crime under the election law, and authorities said they were investigating 734 cases of possible vote-buying.
Election fraud and violence have marred Taiwan elections in the past.
The Nationalists had held a knife-edge 51 percent majority in the 157-seat parliament, which will now expand to 225 seats.
The 49 non-elected seats will be apportioned to parties according to the percentage of the total vote each receives under Taiwan's system of proportional representation.
Despite the importance of the races for parliament, which oversees a $41 billion national budget, public and media attention has centered on the battles for control of Taipei and Kaohsiung, where city councils also were being elected.
The Nationalists appeared to have suffered a mayoral defeat in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, where Progressive Party challenger Frank Hsieh declared victory over Nationalist incumbent Wu Den-yih.
In Taipei, Chen and Ma are both in their late 40s, and their performance in the mayoral race was seen as a portent for the future of their parties, particularly with the presidential election just 16 months away. President Lee Teng-hui plans to retire in early 2000.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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