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Nationalists triumph in Taiwan vote

Opposition party aims to reestablish China connections

TAIPEI -- Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party won an overwhelming victory in island-wide municipal elections yesterday, putting it in position to push its agenda of reunification with China during the 2008 presidential campaign.

With more than 97 percent of the votes counted, Nationalist candidates or Nationalist allies won 17 of the 23 constituencies, while candidates of President Chen Shui-bian's ruling Democratic Progressive Party were assured of victory in six, according to results from the Central Election Commission.

The results constituted a huge vote of confidence in Nationalist Party Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, who was elected to office five months ago. He likely will lead the party's ticket in the 2008 presidential poll.

The Nationalists' policy is eventual reunification with rival China, from which Taiwan split in 1949. Beijing still claims sovereignty over the island and has refused to talk with Chen because it sees him as a strong supporter of Taiwanese independence, unalterably opposed to the Nationalist platform of reunification.

With Chen and Ma at the forefront, the campaign has been marked by widespread allegations of vote buying and fraud.

On Thursday, Ma dramatically raised the stakes in the municipal elections, saying that he would step down as the Nationalist chief if the Nationalists failed to win more than half of the 21 major races.

Ma strongly supported former Nationalist chairman Lien Chan's groundbreaking visit to the mainland earlier this year and expressed hope that he would be the leader to break the long-standing enmity between Taipei and Beijing in an interview with the Associated Press after his election as Nationalist chairman.

In contrast to the Nationalists, Chen and the Democratic Progressive Party support strengthening the island's status as a self-governing entity.

In the final days of the campaign, Chen repeatedly referred to the Nationalists' China policies in an effort to energize independence-leaning voters.

''The result of these local elections will decide the future of cross-straits relations," he said.

Chen is constitutionally barred from running for a third term in 2008.

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