Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called on voters to turn out to the polls in order to protect democracy at a mass rally Friday on the eve of national elections.
"Tomorrow we have to let everyone see that we are protecting this fortress of democracy in the world," she said before cheering crowds who waved flags and chanted slogans such as "2020 Let's Win!"
Tsai is facing off against challenger Han Kuo-yu of the pro-Beijing Kuomintang (KMT) Party, and has framed this election as a referendum on Taiwan's continuing sovereignty from an increasingly assertive China. She has been leading in polls by wide margins.
Many of Tsai's supporters have looked to the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as an alarming vision of the future under the same kind of "one country, two systems" arrangement that Chinese President Xi Jinping has proposed for Taiwan.
"Taiwan has experienced countless struggles and the sacrifices of countless people before we finally had this [democratic] way of life," Tsai said. "Now the world is watching how we will continue this path. Young people in Hong Kong have used their blood and tears to show us that 'one country, two systems' is not possible. Tomorrow, our young people in Taiwan will show them that the value of democratic freedom can overcome all difficulties."
The threat posed by China was on the minds of many who attended Tsai's rally on Friday.
"I fear that China wants to take over our system," said Lin Shih-yuan, a 57-year-old businessman. "Liberty and democracy are the most precious things we have."
China's relationship with Taiwan cooled dramatically after Tsai was elected in 2016. She has refused to accept the "1992 Consensus," a document that views Taiwan and China as one country.
Beijing suspended diplomatic contact with Taipei in 2016, has restricted tourism to Taiwan and has worked to further isolate the island of 23 million from the international community. Only 15 states maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Some attendees of the rally said that they were there not only for themselves but for future generations.
"I want to show a symbol of democracy to my children," said Lahsana Wang, who attended with her husband and two toddlers. "If I don't stand up and choose to just stay at home I would feel worried about the future. I wanted to come outside and tell people we should defend our country for our children."
Also appearing at the rally were groups of protesters who had flown in from Hong Kong for the election.
One protester, who gave his name as Ethan, was dressed in the black outfit and face mask that is the standard attire of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. He was holding up a sign that urged people to vote, warning that "Today's Hong Kong will be tomorrow's Taiwan."
Groups of Taiwanese rally attendees surrounded the Hong Kongers, shouting support and slogans such as "Free Hong Kong."
"If the Taiwanese people don't come out and vote and express their opinions, someday they will become like Hong Kong," Ethan said. "They have the freedom to vote. That's what we're fighting for."
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