TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan's pro-independence parties suffered an upset defeat in legislative elections Saturday, a result sure to please Chinese leaders who regard the island as part of the mainland.
The coalition that included President Chen Shui-bian's (search) party had been widely favored to win control of the legislature. But the opposition rallied, keeping its grip on parliament.
The opposition won 90 of the 176 seats that are directly elected by voters, while the president's group won 76 seats, the Central Election Commission said. The remaining 10 seats were still unconfirmed, the commission said.
Another 49 seats will be divided up by the parties according to the number of votes they won in the direct election.
An official with the Nationalist Party (search), the biggest opposition group, said his coalition won 116 seats. "We have exceeded more than half the total legislative seats. We thank the voters for their support," the official, Lin Feng-cheng (search), told reporters.
Cheng Wen-tsan, a spokesman for the president's party, conceded defeat. "We haven't reached our target," he said.
The president's Democratic Progressive Party (search) promised voters it would rewrite the constitution and continue pushing for a new Taiwanese identity separate from China's. Both pledges angered Beijing, which views them as part of Chen's policy of "creeping independence."
A civil war split the two sides in 1949, and China has repeatedly warned that it's ready to fight again if the Taiwanese refuse to eventually unify or keep dragging their feet on the issue. China did not immediately comment on Saturday's election.
Chen's party was more moderate on the China issue compared with its ally, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, which is staunchly opposed to unification with China.
The president insists that Taiwan is already independent, and that only Taiwanese voters can decide whether to unify eventually. Chen says he will accept unification if it's what the people want.
Since he was elected in 2000, the Taiwanese president has repeatedly urged Chinese leaders to meet with him. They've rejected his invitations because Chen has refused to endorse their view that Taiwan is part of "one China."
Chen has been telling voters that Chinese leaders will be more willing to talk to him if his party won greater control of parliament. He has warned that if Beijing keeps ignoring him, Taiwan will drift further away from the mainland.
But voter Mary Lee, a 45-year-old office worker, said she backed the pro-unification Nationalist Party because Chen was more likely to bring war than peace.
"We need the Nationalists to check and balance Chen Shui-bian so he won't lead the country on the dangerous path to independence," she said.
Voter Tsai Ming-tai said she supported Chen's party and wasn't worried about how Beijing would react.
"We can't stand China. Whatever we try to do, China tries to block it. Anyway, if a war breaks out, America will help defend us, and China is afraid of that," the 34-year-old businesswoman said.