Taiwan's top two political parties have each nominated a woman for president in 2016, a historic first signaling acceptance of female leadership and kicking off a campaign highlighted so far by clashing views on ties with China. The ruling Nationalist Party today picked as its candidate Hung Hsiu-chu, a former teacher and the current deputy legislative speaker, who supports friendly relations with China. She'll run against Tsai Ing-wen, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman and an advocate of more cautious relations with Beijing. Tsai leads in opinion polls ahead of January's election. Voters in Taiwan have never elected a woman as president nor had a choice between two female candidates backed by the major parties. One third of Taiwanese legislators are female, compared to 13% in Japan and 16% in South Korea.
Hung supports an understanding with Beijing that both sides belong to one China, though with different interpretations, but Tsai's party rejects that basis for talks as a slight to Taiwan's autonomy. Hung's Nationalists lost nine seats in November, with younger voters accusing President Ma Ying-jeou's government of getting dangerously close to China. Tsai, a 58-year-old lawyer and once Taiwan's top policymaker on mainland China affairs, lost the 2012 presidential race to Ma by six percentage points. Hung, 67, has been dubbed a "little chili pepper" for her biting, humorous style of grilling officials in parliament. "Hung is an unexpected, even odd, choice for nominee," says an expert. "What seems to be most clear is that Taiwan's voters are ready for a female president." (Read more Taiwan stories.)