Taiwan Election Coverage:

In about seven hours, the polls will open for Taiwan's presidential election. Incumbent President Chen Shui-Bian is term-limited, so the race is between Frank Hsieh, of the Democratic Progressive Party (the same party as Chen), and Ma Ying-Jeou, of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party). The public release of polling information is forbidden in the days before the election, but many observers believe that Hsieh is rapidly closing a large gap in the polls.

An important factor working in Hsieh's favor is the rioting in Tibet, a reminder of China's brutal suppression of a formerly independent nation; although the Chinese government has renamed Tibet as the "Tibet Autonomous Region," Chinese treatment of the Tibetans ever since the Chinese conquest half a century ago serves as a reminder that the Chinese government's promises of autonomy are sometimes worthless.

Mr. Ma, the former mayor of Taiwan's capital city, Taipei, has proposed forming a common market with China, and his party, the KMT, is generally seen as more conciliatory to China than is the DPP. (However, DPP candidate Hsieh is seen as much less inclined than President Chen to push the envelope on China issues.)

As a result, Ma has made a point of taking a tough line on the Tibet issue. He contrasted Taiwan and Tibet by stating that unlike Tibet, Taiwan is "sovereign"--an indisputably accurate fact, although one with many appeasement-minded KMT members have been reluctant to say out loud. Further, he said that if Chinese government violence in Tibet continues, Taiwan might boycott the Beijing Olympics.

Over 200,000 Taiwan citizens living overseas have come home to vote in the election. The majority of these traveling voters are Taiwanese entrepreneurs and their families who live in China. One elderly man traveled 20 hours from Brazil to be able to vote.

The Taiwanese are very enthusiastic participants in their democracy, and, happily, the electorate seems less polarized than in the bitterly-contested 2004 election.

By Taiwanese law, all public rallies must end by 10 p.m. on the night before the election. A little bit ago, I attended the KMT's final pre-election rally in Taipei. Neither presidential candidate Ma Ying-Jeou nor his running mate Vincent Siew were at the rally, since both spent the day in campaigning in southern Taiwan. Below are some pictures from the rally. I didn't arrive in Taipei in time to attend the DPP's big rally there two nights ago; I wish I had, so that I could also post DPP photos.

VC readers will be pleased to know that both Hsieh and Ma have law degrees, and that Ma earned a LLM from Harvard.

These photos are taken from near the front of the rally; they don't convey the size of the crowd, which was huge, or the sounds of the loud and enthusiastic crowd.

The woman in the middle of the above picture (to the left of the man in the lavender shirt) had flown in from Los Angeles to vote.

The KMT is the leading party of the pan-blue coalition; while the DPP leads the pan-green coalition. Hence the DPP's campaign symbol of a bluebird. The flags, of course, are those of Republic of China, which is Taiwan's formal name.

Siew is on the left, Ma on the right.