Taiwan goes to vote this Saturday. Here

Ashley Pon/Getty Images

Taiwan goes to vote this Saturday. Here's why it could be a historic election

Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

This Saturday, 18.8 million voters in Taiwan are expected to make history when they go to the polls to elect a new president and legislature.

Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, is widely expected to become Taiwan's first female president.

The other reason why the world should pay attention is because a victory for Tsai will mean only the second defeat for Kuomintang (KMT), or the Nationalist Party since Chiang Kai-shek's forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

Also read - United States welcomes China and Taiwan's first meeting since 1949

Taiwan, with its population of 23 million, held its first direct presidential election only 20 years ago. On the other hand, China's president is selected by the governing Communist Party, not elected by the public.

Outgoing Taiwan President, KMT's Ma Ying-jeou has served the maximum two terms. Meanwhile, fortunes of his hoped-for successor, Eric Chu, is floundering.

A third candidate, James Soong, brings up the rear.

As the electoral front-runner, Tsai has pledged to boost Taiwan's sluggish economy by boosting business dealings with India, ASEAN and East Asia, thus breaking away from the dependence on mainland Chinese trade, fostered by KMT.

Some predict this could send relations with Beijing into a tailspin.

The election results will start getting posted on the website of the Central Election Commission of Taiwan after polls close at 4 pm on Saturday.

The new legislature will be seated on 1 February. The victor in the presidential race will not take office until 20 May.

The presidential candidates

1. Tsai Ing-wen, 59, Democratic Progressive Party

Credit - Ashley Pon/Getty Images - Taiwan elections Tsai Ing-wen

Photo: Ashley Pon/Getty Images

This is her second run for the presidency after losing to Ma in 2012. A win will give the region its first female leader who is not related to a powerful male politician.

Tsai was educated at National Taiwan University and Cornell and holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. She was a lawyer and professor before entering political life.

Chinese state media has already accused Tsai of "evil talk", "carping" and posing "new challenges to the cross-straits relationship".

2. Eric Chu, 54, Kuomintang

Eric Chu, presidential candidate Kuomintang. Billy HC Kwok/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Photo: Billy HC Kwok/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Chu, the chairman of the Kuomintang and mayor of New Taipei City, was chosen as KMT's previous candidate Hung Hsiu-chu was dropped because of her poor showing in the polls. But the switch has changed little: Chu trails in polls by at least 20 points.

He holds a Ph.D. from New York University and taught accounting before entering politics, joining the legislature in 1999.

3. James Soong, 73, People First Party

James Soong (Photo by Peter ParksïÃÃâÃÃââÃÃâÃÃââPool/Getty Images)

Photo: Peter Parks/Getty Images

Soong, who was elected in 1994 as the governor of Taiwan Province, founded the People's First Party in 2000. The party favours closer relations with China. He was defeated in his 2000 and 2012 presidential bids. He also ran, unsuccessfully, for vice president in 2004.

He was born in Hunan Province, the only candidate born in mainland China, and he has a Ph.D. in political science from Georgetown University.

The legislative battle

The Kuomintang currently holds 64 of the legislature's 113 seats, all of which are up for grabs on Saturday. It needs to retain 57 of them to keep its majority. Most of the seats are chosen by geographical districts, but 34 are filled by the parties based on the national vote and six are reserved for aboriginal constituencies.

There are some interesting candidates this year, several of them first timers.

Wu'er Kaixi: The 47-year-old is a former student leader at the 1989 Tienanmen Square protests in Beijing and a talk-show host in Taiwan. He is running as representative of a small party called the Constitutional Reform Fraternity Coalition.

Freddy Lim: The 39-year-old the lead singer of the heavy-metal band Chthonic and former chairman of Amnesty International Taiwan, is a candidate for the New Power Party, which he helped establish in January 2015. The party seeks to turn the activism of young people embodied in recent political movements into political representation.

Huang Kuo-chang: A legal scholar with the New Power Party, he was a leader of the Sunflower Movement protests in 2014, when demonstrators occupied the legislature over a trade deal with China. The other burning issue that set the movement off with large rallies in 2013 was the death of Hung Tzu-yung, the sister of an army corporal.

Lin Li-chan: The 38-year-old KMT candidate was born in Cambodia and married a man from Taiwan through a marriage broker 18 years ago. She said she hoped to be a voice for Taiwan's growing number of spouses from China and Southeast Asia. She could become the first migrant spouse to win a legislative seat in Taiwan.

Chang An-lo: The 67-year-old served 10 years in prison in the US on drug charges before being deported to Taiwan in 1995. Chang, also known as White Wolf, was been accused of involvement in organised crime in 1996 in Taiwan and fled to mainland China. He was arrested on his return to Taiwan in 2013 and is now free on bail. He is running as a candidate of the China Unification Promotion Party that advocates Taiwan's unification with the Chinese mainland.

Wayne Chiang: The 37-year-old lawyer is the great-grandson of Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist Chinese leader.

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Aleesha Matharu

Aleesha Matharu @almatharu