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Taiwan Voters Move Away From Chen's Agenda  - 2004-12-12

Taiwan's opposition parties defeated the pro-independence coalition in the island's legislative elections. The result means the island's president may have trouble pursuing his agenda of distancing Taiwan from mainland China.

Election officials say the Kuomintang-led opposition coalition will end up with 114 seats in Taiwan's 225-member legislature - one more than it had going into Saturday's vote. The coalition favors stronger ties with Beijing and leaving unchanged the island's political status.

The pro-independence coalition led by President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party, failed again to secure control of the Legislative Yuan. It captured 101 seats.

The election was seen as a referendum on the president's efforts to distance Taiwan from China and move toward greater independence.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war divided the country. Beijing considers the island its territory and says Taiwanese independence moves would be considered grounds for war.

President Chen may find it difficult to push forward his key platform issues. They include legislative approval of an $18 billion arms purchase from the United States; replacing the name "Republic of China" with "Taiwan" for some government offices, and a referendum on a new constitution.

Hsiao Bi-Khim, a member of the president's Democratic People's Party, says those issues are important to the island.

"These issues, they're actually reflecting the popular sentiment here and are a pragmatic step forward," said Hsiao Bi-Khim. "It's a process of natural evolution here in Taiwan."

Beijing says the proposals could provoke Chinese intervention but Ms. Hsiao says the president will not push Taiwan toward formal independence.

"President Chen has laid out what we will not touch upon, and mainly issues related to sovereignty, independence and national name change, these issues will not be dealt with in the constitutional reform process," she said.

Washington strongly opposes Mr. Chen's agenda and favors maintaining the status quo.

Saturday, it appeared that by leaving control of the legislature in the hands of the president's opposition, Taiwan's voters did just that.