Taipei: Taiwanese voters cast ballots Saturday in an election that will determine the future direction of the world’s only Chinese-speaking democracy as it faces pressure to pick sides in a global power struggle between the US and China.

President Tsai Ing-wen of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party is seeking a second term in the face of competition from Han Kuo-yu of the main opposition Kuomintang, which has governed for much of the time since World War II, and James Soong of the People First Party. Voting began at 8am and ends at 4pm, with a result expected around 8pm.

Analysts widely expect a win for Tsai after she backed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests and oversaw a robust economy despite the US-China trade war. There’s a “low probability” of an election upset, BNY Mellon Investment Management senior sovereign analyst Aninda Mitra wrote in a note Friday, saying he expects Tsai’s DPP to hold on to the presidency and the legislature.

Taiwanese laws bar publication of opinion polls until 4pm on election day.

While issues such as wages, housing and air quality are important to voters, the self-ruled island’s complex relationship with China is the main political fissure in Taiwanese society. A victory for Tsai, whose party advocates formal independence from China, would likely mean four more years of no talks between the two sides on one of the region’s main potential flash points.

China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, cut off all contact with Tsai’s government after she declined to endorse the “one-China” policy following her inauguration in 2016. Beijing has since sought to further isolate Taipei diplomatically by convincing smaller nations in the Pacific, Africa and Central America to switch sides.

Tsai cast her ballot Saturday morning and said she hoped “every citizen can vote today to make democracy in Taiwan stronger.”

At a rally in Taipei on Friday night, she urged her supporters to exercise their vote and made a reference to the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong, saying it shows “one country, two systems” does not work. Young people in Taiwan will show that “the values of democracy and freedom will conquer all difficulties,” she said.

“We do not rule out the possibility of discussions, dialogues and meetings between Taiwan and China, but they need to be conducted without preconditions,” Taiwan foreign minister Joseph Wu said at a briefing in Taipei Thursday. “If China wants to speak with Taiwan, they should speak with Taiwan as it is. Taiwan is a democracy.”

Growing foreign investment

Despite the freeze on cross-strait ties and the US-China trade war, foreign investors have continued to pour into Taiwan’s markets. Stocks saw their biggest annual gain in a decade last year, leaving the benchmark Taiex index just four percentage points off an all-time high.

The main index closed up 0.5 per cent on Friday, with stocks seen benefiting in either scenario all rising in the last session before the election. The Taiwan dollar ended little changed Friday, rising for an eighth week in its longest winning streak since 2013.

The presidential election isn’t the only choice facing voters: The battle for control of Taiwan’s top lawmaking body could end up being more consequential in Saturday’s elections. If the electorate returns Tsai to the presidential office but gives the KMT a majority in the legislature, it will likely lead to four years of political acrimony and deadlock. The reverse could also be true.