The boisterous democracy is expected to push back against Beijing by bringing scholar-turned-politician Tsai Ing-wen to power, unseating the China-friendly ruling party.

Voters are uneasy about warming relations with Beijing and, as the economy stagnates, many are frustrated that trade pacts signed with China have failed to benefit ordinary Taiwanese.

Tsai is the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which has a much warier approach to China than the unpopular ruling Kuomintang (KMT). Tsai is well ahead of KMT candidate Eric Chu in the polls.

After decades of enmity, current KMT President Ma Ying-jeou has overseen a dramatic rapprochement with China since coming to power in 2008.

Although Taiwan is self-ruling after it split with China following a civil war in 1949, it has never formally declared independence and Beijing still sees it as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

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