Taiwan has the kind of democracy that gives you goose bumps. Throughout its history the little island has been squashed and shaped by the closest super-power, China. Beijing continues to claim sovereignty over Taiwan and seems to view it as a renegade sibling that will inevitably be subsumed. If Taiwan should at some point officially declare independence, China has refused to rule out military intervention. Despite that, since 1996 the plucky Taiwanese have been electing their own leaders. Election turnout is consistently around 75 per cent. Here, democracy really matters. This year the Taiwanese are preparing to use their votes to do something extraordinary. No matter who wins, the next president is almost certain to be a woman. The election is a two horse race between the ruling Kuomintang party (KMT) and the opposition Democratic Progression Party (DPP). Both have nominated women candidates.
In KMT’s corner, meet 67-year-old Hung Hsiu-chu – aka “Little Hot Pepper”. The deputy legislative speaker is known for her fiery style and straight-talking. Hung’s father was imprisoned for three and a half years, accused of Communist sympathies during the period of political repression in the 1940s known as the “White Terror.” Even after his release, he couldn’t find work and the family struggled to make ends meet. Hung worked as a secondary school teacher before entering parliament in 1990.
Her opponent is 59-year-old Tsai Ing-wen – chairwoman of the DPP – who according to opinion polls is on course to win. Brought up in a wealthy business family, Tsai has a polite, reserved manner and several government positions under her belt. Before entering politics, she studied at Cornell University and the London School of Economics and enjoyed a successful career as a professor of law.