Taiwan opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen, who has moderated her party's policies toward mainland China, secured its presidential nomination Wednesday by narrowly winning an island-wide telephone poll.
The Democratic Progressive Party is expected to formally announce Tsai's nomination on May 4. According to party rules, the winner of the poll automatically becomes its nominee.
Tsai, the party's 54-year-old chairwoman, will face President Ma Ying-jeou in the January 2012 presidential election. Ma was the only candidate to register for the ruling Nationalists, and his nomination was formally ratified Wednesday afternoon.
In the party-commissioned telephone poll of 15,000 eligible voters, Tsai defeated Ma by 42.5 percent to 35 percent, while veteran DPP politician Su Tseng-chang outpointed Ma by slightly less, 41.1 percent to 33.8 percent. The candidate with the highest number is declared the winner.
Shortly after the results were announced, Su congratulated Tsai, precluding the possibility of a legal challenge.
Tsai has departed from the DPP's long-standing anti-China policies and promoted exchanges with the mainland. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949, and China continues to claim the self-ruling island as part of its territory.
Relations with Beijing remain the focal point of Taiwanese politics. Ma's Nationalists favor closer ties, while the DPP hews _ at least formally _ to a pro-independence platform.
During his three years in office, Ma has lowered tensions across the 100-mile (160-kilometer) -wide Taiwan Strait to their lowest point in 60 years by tying Taiwan's high-tech economy closer to China's lucrative markets. A partial free trade pact signed last year _ the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement _ symbolizes the growing links.
Tsai opposed the pact, saying it made Taiwan's 23 million people too dependent on Beijing and paved the way for an erosion of Taiwan's de facto independence.
But she also acknowledges that a robust commercial relationship with China _ combined with strong ties with other countries _ is necessary for Taiwan's long-term prosperity. That is a significant departure from the policies of the DPP's Chen Shui-bian, who infuriated China during his 2000-2008 presidency by pushing for greater independence.
Tsai, who has a doctorate from the London School of Economics, began her political career in the late 1990s under former Nationalist President Lee Teng-hui as an adviser on Taiwan's National Security Council.
She reportedly made several secret trips to Washington to help ease American worries about Chen's independence-leaning stance while serving as head of the Cabinet-level body responsible for China ties between 2000 and 2004.
She subsequently served as Chen's vice premier in a Cabinet headed by Su.