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Taiwan: The two candidates

Profiles of the two candidates in Taiwan's presidential election:

Chen Shui-bian

Incumbent President Chen Shui-bian, 54, head of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is seeking another four years in office. His running mate is his outspoken vice president, Annette Lu, a former dissident who spent 5-years in jail during martial law in the mid-1980s.

Chen, who was elected in 2000 in Taiwan's first democratic transfer of power, will hold a referendum to coincide with the election on strengthening defences against China and restarting reconciliation talks with Beijing.

Beijing has ignored Chen since he took office because he refuses to embrace its "one China" principle, which dictates that both Taiwan and the mainland are part of a single country.

Chen's party, the Democratic Progressive Party, advocates independence from China, although Chen has taken a softer stance since he was elected. He has offered to shake hands with Chinese President and Communist Party chief Hu Jintao if he wins.

Chen, with his wheelchair-bound wife at his side, his folksy style and his vows to end corruption have made him one of Taiwan's most popular and charismatic politicians. However, many are disappointed with his administrative record, unhappy with his economic policies and a sharp recession that began shortly after he took office.

Lien Chan

Lien Chan, 67, chairman of the once all-powerful Nationalist Party, has joined forces with the popular former Taiwan governor James Soong, head of the splinter People First Party to boost his chances.

Lien, a scion of one of Taiwan's wealthiest families, was hand-picked by former President Lee Teng-hui to succeed him as head of state in the 2000 polls. But he ran a distant third.

He has worked to soften his image as an aloof and wooden politician. Four years in opposition after more than five decades in power have given Lien sharper edges that the 67-year-old former university professor and vice president had never shown before.

Lien favours a conciliatory approach to Taiwan's giant neighbour that includes eventual reunification with a democratic China, but leaving the issue for future generations to decide.

He has promised to visit China if he wins the March 20 election, aiming to go before he takes the oath of office on May 20. He has also pledged direct transportation links with the mainland within his first year in the job.

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