Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Party won a landslide victory in legislative elections, giving a big boost to its policy of closer engagement with China just two months before a presidential poll it now seems poised to win.
President Chen Shui-bian, long criticized for aggravating relations with China by promoting policies to formalize Taiwan's de facto independence, resigned as chairman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, when the defeat became clear after Saturday's vote.
"I should shoulder all responsibilities," Chen said. "I feel really apologetic and shamed."
His resignation does not affect his status as president.
The official Central Election Commission said the Nationalists had won 81 seats in the island's 113-seat legislature, with only 27 going to the DPP, four to Nationalist-leaning independents and one to a Nationalist satellite party.
Critics say Chen's China policies have hindered Taiwan's once-vibrant economy and worsened tension with Beijing.
The Nationalists ruled a united China before 1949 and were the mainland communists' enemies in a civil war. But in recent years the party and Beijing have found common cause in their opposition to Chen.
Washington also has made it clear it finds Chen's policies toward Beijing dangerous and provocative Ñ particularly a planned referendum on Taiwanese membership in the United Nations, which appears designed to underscore the democratic island's political separateness from the communist mainland.
A March 22 presidential election to chose a successor to Chen, who must step down after eight years in office, pits the ruling DPP's Frank Hsieh against Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalist Party. Recent opinion polls give Ma a 20-point lead, and Saturday's win by his party is likely to boost him further.
The DPP wants to make Taiwan's independence official, but has held off because of China's repeated threats to attack. The Nationalists favor more engagement with China, and do not rule out eventual unification.
China's government did not immediately react to the election results, but was likely to be pleased with the Nationalist victory.
In May 2005, then Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan made a historic visit to the mainland despite objections from Taiwan's government.
"The election will have a positive impact, benefiting stability across the Taiwan Strait," said Yu Keli, head of the Taiwan Studies Institute, a Chinese government-backed think tank in Beijing. "The Taiwanese electorate has delivered a no-confidence vote on Chen Shui-bian." (AP)
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