If I was told that the Japan custom officers are hiding cannabis in passengers’ luggage so that they can be used as carriers, I probably will just bate an eyelid. However, they are now saying that they are using the passengers and their luggage as training for their dogs?! My eyelids are batting in automatic mode! Can you imagine the fright that a passenger will get when he or she gets confronted by a sniffer dog?!

Anyway, the package in one of the exercises is not lost and one passenger probably got home with the additional package in his luggage. Wonder if he knows use to use it. =)

TOKYO – ONE of the travellers who arrived at Tokyo’s Narita airport over the weekend may have picked up an unusual souvenir from customs – a package of cannabis.

A customs official hid the package in a suitcase belonging to a passenger arriving from Hong Kong as a training exercise for sniffer dogs on Sunday, but lost track of both drugs and suitcase during the practice session, a spokeswoman for Tokyo customs said.

Customs regulations specify that a training suitcase be used for such exercises, but the official said he had used passengers’ suitcases for similar purposes in the past, domestic media reported.

‘The dogs have always been able to find it before,’ NHK quoted him as saying. ‘I became overconfident that it would work.’

Anyone who finds the package should contact Tokyo customs as soon as possible, the spokeswoman said. — REUTERS

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 26th May 2008

Whenever a General Election (GE) looms in Singapore, a group of Singaporeans are skeptical that their choices are really anonymous because of the presence of numbers on the voting slip, which conveniently traces the identity of the voter. In fact, some have wondered if their failure to get a HDB flat has anything to do with them voting for the opposition in the previous elections. This mentality is understandable if "things hadn’t been smooth" when they have indeed voted for the opposition. The government was of course quick to refute all such claims, maintaining that everything is really kept private and confidential.

However, if indeed the votes are being monitored, what’s the worse thing that can happen? You may probably "not be able to get a HDB flat", although some of us do think that it’s preposterous for something like this to happen. After all, the government does want more people to get married and set up families, isn’t it? Now, if you look at Myanmar and what the people are thinking and saying, you’d understand what freedom of choice really is.

Fellow Singaporeans, it’s time to appreciate our government who has worked so hard to maintain corruption-free and to put the priorities of the people above everything else. Importantly, whatever it’s done is for the own good of the people although it’s sometimes a bitter pill to swallow. =)

Yangon – Voters in regions devastated by the cyclone cast ballots yesterday in a referendum that many say is meaningless, as Myanmar’s junta has already declared victory.

The regime says the charter was overwhelmingly approved by 92.4per cent in the first round of voting on May10.

Even though their votes will not change the outcome, hundreds of thousands of people left their patched-up homes and makeshift shelters to cast ballots at schools, temples and community centres.

‘I will tick Yes,’ said 30-year-old shop assistant Khin Min. ‘I’m afraid I will be put in jail if I vote No.’

AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 25th May 2008

The Myanmar junta may seem heartless to kick the survivors out of the shelters to make way for the polling station, but there could be other reasons that bystanders like myself may not know. Perhaps the junta really want the survivors to quickly stand on their feet (pun unintended) and move on (double pun unintended). Perhaps the polls were really urgent and because it is so important, it has to be protected from the harshness of nature. Perhaps the shelters were the best place places to hold their polls properly – after all, it’s supposed to be good for the people; nation above self, remember? Perhaps the junta wanted to liberate the people in more ways than one. Perhaps…

YANGON – WITH few places to seek refuge, the wooden schoolhouse seemed as good as anywhere.

Though its roof was partially blown off by Cyclone Nargis, and panels were ripped from its walls, hundreds of people swarmed here after the storm.

Now the government has forced them out to make space for a weekend vote on a new pro-military constitution – a referendum delayed in parts of Myanmar because of the deadly cyclone.

‘The school will be used as a polling station,’ said Sandar, a teacher who refused to give her last name. ‘We needed people to leave.’

‘Most of them set up temporary bamboo huts,’ Sandar said on Wednesday.

Like most people in Myanmar, she did not want to be fully identified because the government dislikes people talking to the media.

As many as 2 million people are struggling to find the basic necessities of life following the May 2-3 storm, sleeping in tents near their shattered homes or crowding into monasteries, schools and other de facto relief shelters.

But many are being displaced again to make way for polling stations needed to hold a referendum that is – by official reckoning – already a done deal.

The government will open polls in the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta and Yangon areas on Saturday. The rest of the country voted on May 10; state radio said the late balloting could not reverse the constitution’s approval by 92.4 percent of the 22 million eligible voters.

In a big pavilion – a flat expanse of concrete under a green sheet roof – also on the outskirts of Yangon, dozens of homeless were packing up.

About 100 old people and children put their stuffed canvas sacks and bags on the benches in the middle of the hall. Some people sat on the floor. Others were out on the road, waiting.

A half hour later, they were gone.

A green banner was being put up in front by men, apparently security personnel in plainclothes, along with polling tables inside. — AP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 22nd May 2008

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has resigned from the ruling party as a protest to how his hand-picked successor had ran the party thus far. His successor, PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over the helm in 2003 and since then, things had been going on a landslide. In the latest general elections, Umno did not manage to get the minimum majority in parliament and had to settle for less. This prompted a lot of displeasure from the former premier as well as some law makers in the party. He is also asking the rest of the party members to follow suit so that PM Abdullah will have no choice but to step down and for fresh elections to be called.

KUALA LUMPUR – FORMER Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad has quit the ruling party Umno in protest over the leadership of his successor Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his son said on Monday.

‘Dr Mahathir has resigned from Umno in protest over Pak Lah’s continued leadership as both the prime minister and president of Umno,’ Mr Mokhzani Mahathir said, referring to Mr Abdullah by his nickname.

‘He will also write a letter to the Umno secretary-general to inform him of his resignation,’ he said, adding that Dr Mahathir announced his departure during a speech on Monday in Alor Star, the capital of his home state Kedah.

‘He made it clear at the gathering at Alor Star that he is resigning in protest over the current leadership,’ he said.

Dr Mahathir ruled Malaysia and the dominant United Malays National Organisation (Umno) for 22 years until 2003 when he handed over to Abdullah, his hand-picked successor.

However, in recent times he has been a vocal critic of Mr Abdullah’s administration and since disastrous March general elections, which produced Umno’s worst ever results, has actively campaigned for him to step down.

News website Malaysiakini quoted Dr Mahathir as urging all Umno ministers and party leaders to follow him by quitting the party, and return only when Mr Abdullah has departed.

‘I will only come back to the party when there is a change in leadership,’ it quoted him as telling the Alor Star gathering.

‘Wait till Mr Abdullah quits as the prime minister and party president and then we can return to Umno,’ he reportedly said.

Mr Shahrir Samad, a cabinet minister and senior Umno member, said Dr Mahathir’s surprise move could trigger a flurry of resignations from the embattled party that could force Mr Abdullah to hold fresh general elections.

‘By Tun doing this it could cause a situation where many other Umno lawmakers might resign,’ he said, using Dr Mahathir’s honorific title.

‘If this happens then the government has no choice but to form a new government or call a fresh general election,’ the domestic trade and consumer affairs minister said.

‘Certainly it is not helpful or constructive to the struggle of Umno right now,’ he said, as the party fends off a challenge from opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim who says he could soon seize power with the help of defectors.

Mr Shahrir said that while Mr Anwar was threatening to snatch lawmakers from the smaller parties with which Umno rules in coalition, Dr Mahathir could chip away at the ranks of the ruling party itself.

‘This will be a reduction of the number of Umno lawmakers which is the ruling party of the present government,’ he said.

‘I suppose it is Dr Mahathir’s way of trying to force a call for a referendum from the grass roots.’

The Star’s website quoted Umno information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib as saying he was surprised at Dr Mahathir’s abrupt departure.

‘Every member has the right to join or leave the party,’ he said.

Asked whether Umno would convene an emergency meeting in response to the move, he said that ‘we will wait and see.’

Dr Mahathir, 82, joined Umno at its inception in 1946 and he has weathered a number of storms including his expulsion from the party in 1969 and a 1988 crisis when Umno was declared illegal. — AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 19th May 2008

Indeed after 2 disasters, a midnight storm caught occupants unaware and killed 13 of them and injured about a dozen, all of whom were at a construction site. While the degree of destruction may not be as huge as the previous 2, still, lives lost are lost lives and these should be prevented. For people who have watched the movie – The Day After Tomorrow, they may be familiar with the story line that the planet is adjusting itself such that it’ll be in equilibrium again; equilibrium from what the planet’s occupants have taken away from it, and that this is happening way ahead of what anyone’s model can predict.

Are we ready for it yet? Is it really to late to start green campaigns?

CHANDIGARH (India) – A HOUSE collapse triggered by a storm in northern India killed 13 labourers and injured over a dozen on Sunday, officials said.

At least 13 labourers were buried under piles of rubble in Gurgaon, near India’s capital, New Delhi, after portions of a house they were constructing collapsed on them, police said.

Police said the collapse was triggered by a midnight storm that lashed Haryana state.

‘The victims lived in huts adjacent to a construction site,’ said Mr Srikrishan Murari, a senior police officer.

Around 16 injured labourers were being treated in a hospital, he added. — REUTERS

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 19th May 2008

A Malaysian blogger was charged after he made seditious claims against the deputy prime minister, implying that the latter was involved in the killing of a Mongolian woman. While he has not produced evidence of his claims, the plead innocent to the charge and refused to post bail. Critics have slammed the charge as a blow to freedom of speech.

Here’s the golden question – when is it freedom of speech? When is it seditious?

In Singapore, the only freedom of speech that the people enjoy is responsible freedom of speech. Primarily, it probably means that whatever the people say, it should not implicate anyone, especially people of importance. This is probably a necessity because Singapore is a small country and any potential unrest will throw the entire city-state into chaos.

Of course, not everyone observes the responsible part and usually get into trouble. In Singapore, it’s hard to challenge the system – and having just a lone fighter is never enough.

KUALA LUMPUR – A PROMINENT Malaysian blogger was charged Tuesday with sedition for allegedly implying the deputy prime minister was involved in the sensational killing of a young Mongolian woman.

Raja Petra Raja Kamaruddin, who has not denied that he linked Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak to the slayings, pleaded innocent to the charge, telling reporters later that he should have the right to hold the powerful accountable for wrongdoing.

He was taken to a detention center after he refused to post bail.

The court set the trial for Oct 6.

‘I am not posting bail. See you guys in October,’ Raja Petra told supporters before police took him away. ‘I will be out for Christmas. Don’t worry,’ he said as he embraced his teary-eyed wife and others.

Dozens of opposition members and bloggers had gathered to show support for Raja Petra outside the Kuala Lumpur magistrate’s court where he was charged.

Critics slammed the charge, which carries a maximum punishment of three years in jail, as a blow to freedom of speech.

‘Raja Petra has done a lot to raise people’s awareness of issues,’ said Nurul Izzah Anwar, an opposition member of Parliament and daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

‘This is an attempt to clamp down on all sorts of freedom. We would have thought that after the elections, things would have changed,’ Ms Nurul Izzah said, referring to the huge losses the ruling National Front coalition suffered in the March 8 elections.

The sedition charge stems from an April 25 article titled ‘Let’s Send the Altantuya Murderers to Hell’ that Raja Petra posted on his popular Web site Malaysia Today.

Prosecutors say the article implies that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife, Ms Rosmah Mansoor, were involved in the 2006 killing in Malaysia of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old Mongolian interpreter.

Abdul Razak Baginda, a close associate of Mr Najib, is charged with abetting the murder. Two policemen have been accused of killing her and destroying her body with explosives in a jungle clearing. The trial of the three men began in June 2007 and is under way.

The prosecution contends that Mr Abdul Razak had the woman killed because she pestered him for money after he ended their affair.

Prosecutors said in the written charge that Raja Petra ‘published a seditious article … which contains seditious sentences’.

It said the sentences include allegations that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi ‘is covering up evidence implicating Mr Najib in the murder.’

Raja Petra said he was not worried by the sedition charge.

‘I am happy. I want to challenge the government. We bloggers have declared war on the government. We are not scared of the government. The government should be scared of us,’ he told reporters before going into the court.

‘Is it seditious to influence people against corrupt leaders? There is nothing seditious,’ he said. ‘Do you think I do not have evidence?’

Some of Malaysia’s most popular blogs offer strongly anti-government commentaries and present themselves as a substitute for mainstream media, which are controlled by or political parties or closely linked to them.

The government has taken many bloggers to court and accused them of spreading lies and undermining public stability.

Police questioned Raja Petra last July over articles he wrote that criticized the government.

In March a court ordered him to pay 4 million ringgit (S$1.7 million) to the state-run Universiti Utara Malaysia and its vice-chancellor for publishing a defamatory article. Raja Petra has refused to pay. — AP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 6th May 2008

While the Singapore government embraces Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), New York – one of the world’s busiest city decides to trash it. New Yorkers unanimously decided against setting up road pricing schemes in New York because they felt that doing so will be biased against people living out of the city central. In addition, they felt that the Metro (train system) is underfunded and will not be able to handle the extra load that is expected when people switch from private transport to public means.

This is despite Manhattan being a fraction the size of Singapore (I would think so, as far as I can remember) and their Metro having different ways and means to cope with morning traffic (express trains that stops only at designated "busy" stations – something that I think Singaporeans will frown upon but swallow it like Panadol if it is really implemented). Eventually, the plan was ditched because it would have "unfairly targeted commuters and their constituents". In fact, the pricing scheme is even thought to be flawed!

And here in Singapore, there’s no talk of unfair targeting and there is no talk of democratic senseless objections. Hmm… but in Singapore, things are different. The MRT is heavily funded by raising fare hikes! That’s where the difference lie.

싱가포르 정부의 포위하는 동안에는 전자 도로 요금 (ERP), 뉴욕 – 세계에서 가장 바쁜 도시 중 하나를 휴지통 그것을 결정합니다. 뉴요커 만장일치로 결정했다 뉴욕에 대한 설정하는 도로 요금 체계 이렇게 왜냐하면 그들은 편견을 느낀 사람이 살고있는 도시 밖으로 중앙합니다. 또한, 그들은 자신이 지하철 (전철 시스템)이 부족하고 여분의 부하를 처리할 수 없을 것으로 예상되는 사람들이 전환할 경우 민간 수송 수단을 공개합니다.

이것은 맨해튼이라는에도 불구하고 분수의 크기를 싱가포르 (나는, 그렇게 생각됩니다 내가 기억할 수있는만큼) 및 그들의 지하철 보내고 아침에 대처하기 위해 다양한 방법과 수단 트래픽 (특급 열차가 지정된에서만 멈춘다 "없음" 방송국 – 그런 것 같아요 난색 따라 싱가포르는 조영처럼 그러나 그것은 정말 구현된 경우 토쿠하이). 결국은,이 계획이 있기 때문에이 따돌렸다 "부당 타겟 통근과 그들의 지역구"합니다. 사실은, 가격 구성표는가 생각도 결함이!

그리고 여기에 싱가포르,이 없어 불공정 타겟팅과 얘기를 많이 의미가없습니다 민주 토크 반대합니다. 흠 … 그러나 싱가포르, 상황은 다르다. 막대한 자금을 조달하는 정류장까지 거리 MRT 는 요금을 인상! 그것의 차이는 어디 거짓말을합니다.

NY lawmakers ditch plan for congestion pricing in Manhattan

ALBANY – LAWMAKERS rejected a proposal on Monday to charge Manhattan motorists an extra fee to drive in the city, a plan advocates hoped would reduce traffic and curb pollution.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced the decision after a survey of Democratic Assembly members in a private conference. The decision comes after days of closed-door negotiations, and means the city will forfeit US$354 million (S$488 million) in federal funding for trying to kick-start the plan.

The concept aimed to cut traffic and pollution by forcing more commuters onto mass transit. It would have charged most drivers US$8 to drive below 60th Street between 6 am and 6 pm on Monday through Friday. Truckers would have paid US$21.

The Legislature faced a Monday deadline to act on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal, which was already endorsed by Democratic Gov.

David Paterson, the Republican-led Senate and the City Council.

‘What we are witnessing today is one of the biggest cop-outs in New York’s history,’ said Bloomberg spokesman John Gallagher. ‘After insisting on the formation of a commission to make recommendations for a bill, and then for the City Council to vote to endorse that bill, the Assembly needs to stand up and be counted.’

There was no immediate comment from Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno or Paterson.

The plan ran into strenuous objections from legislators from outer boroughs and New York City suburbs who said it would unfairly target commuters and their constituents.

‘The conference has decided that they are not prepared to do congestion pricing,’ Mr Silver said. ‘Many members just don’t believe in the concept. Many think this proposal is flawed. It will not be on the floor of the Assembly,’ he said.

Mr Silver said part of the problem with the proposal, which Bloomberg had said could begin next year, is that it doesn’t immediately provide funding to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He said the agency that runs the city’s mass transit is already underfunded and needs to be bolstered before it takes on more commuters. — AP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 8th April 2008 – one more week to closure

Seriously, what’s the chances of it? I remembered at least one case where a man claimed to be pregnant but it turned out to be a hoax. A search on the net reveal another site or an update of the old site. Male Pregnancy used to "monitor" the progress of the pregnancy until it was reveal that it was entirely a hoax.

However, apparently this case is for real because the man who is pregnant is actually a transsexual man, which means that he was once a she but didn’t get his womb removed. So anatomically, it is still possible for him to be pregnant. Hmm…

CHICAGO – A TRANSGENDER man who is six months pregnant said in an interview aired by Oprah Winfrey on Thursday that he always wanted to have a child and considers it a miracle.

‘It’s not a male or female desire to have a child. It’s a human desire,’ a thinly bearded Thomas Beatie said. ‘I have a very stable male identity,’ he added, saying that pregnancy neither defines him nor makes him feel feminine.

Mr Beatie, 34, who lives in Oregon, was born a woman but decided to become a man 10 years ago. He began taking testosterone treatments and had breast surgery to remove glands and flatten his chest.

‘I opted not to do anything with my reproductive organs because I wanted to have a child one day,’ he told the talk show host. Mr Beatie’s wife Nancy said she inseminated him with a syringe using sperm purchased from a bank.

Now, he said, his size 32 jeans are getting a bit tight and his shirts are a bit stretched.

Nancy, to whom he has been married for five years and who has two grown daughters by a previous marriage, also appeared on the show, saying the couple’s roles will not change once the baby is born.

‘He’s going to be the father and I’m going to be the mother,’ she said. Their marriage is legal and he is recognised under state law as a man.

The couple was shown on video provided by People Magazine, which collaborated with Winfrey on the show, showing the room that will be the baby’s nursery.

Mr Beatie said the little girl was going to be ‘daddy’s little princess’. The couple was also filmed in their hometown of Bend, Oregon, where he underwent an ultrasound showing the baby in his womb.

‘I can’t believe it. I can’t believe she’s inside me,’ Mr Beatie said while watching the ultrasound image. ‘We see her as our little miracle.’

His obstetrician, Dr Kimberly James, who practices in the Oregon town, told Winfrey: ‘This is a normal pregnancy.’ She said Mr Beatie stopped taking testosterone two years ago and his levels of the hormone are normal.

‘This baby is totally healthy,’ she said. ‘This is what I consider a normal pregnancy.’

The couple said they had been turned down by a number of other doctors before Dr James agreed to take him as a patient.

The couple said an earlier attempt at pregnancy failed when he developed a tubal pregnancy, resulting in surgery that removed his Fallopian tubes.

The couple said they decided to go public with the pregnancy because they wanted to control the way the news got out. ‘We’re just going to have the baby now,’ Nancy said. ‘If we have to, we’ll go hide.’

The couple runs a small business in Bend and has some savings, she said. In addition, Mr Beatie is working on a book about his childhood, his mother’s suicide and his life growing in Hawaii where, as a girl, he was a teen beauty pageant contestant and earned a martial arts black belt.

Winfrey called the development ‘a new definition of what diversity means for everybody’. — REUTERS

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 4th April 2008

Have you eaten dog meat? Do you know that besides Korea, dogs are also an alternative source of meat in times of emergencies? In the Arctic and Antarctic where meat is scarce, or for that matter, where food is scarce, sled dogs – yes, the cute ones which pull your sleds in the snow, are eaten at times. One Norwegian explorer famously ate sled dogs during his expedition to the South Pole to survive; which by doing so, he was able to transport less dog food, thus lightening his load.

China is also famous for exotic food. Besides feeding on dog meat, they also hunt for rodents, felines (yes, this includes Hello Kitty (TM) and every other cute little pussy that you can think of) and rabbit (can’t think of any cute rabbit characters). While dogs were also used as an emergency source of food, it’s now seen as a source of medicinal ingredient.

What the recent commotion is about is that Seoul is seeking to classify dogs – puppies and all as livestock, which will then allow them to set safety standards for preparation of dog meat. As long as it is not classified as so, the preparation is always questionable, which also means that it may be prepared in an unhygienic manner. This move, however, is creating some unrest in the city, activists in which dread the day that dog meat is hung next to beef.

Are you a dog lover?

Ed: Authors of Simply Jean are not connoisseurs of exotic dog meat

SEOUL – THE Seoul city government is seeking to classify man’s best friend as livestock in order to set food safety standards for South Korean lovers of dogmeat, officials say.

Somewhere between two and four million dogs are estimated to be consumed in South Korea every year but the slaughtering and processing is carried out in dirty environments and poses a risks to diners’ health, they said.

Since dogs are not currently classed as livestock there are no hygiene regulations on their slaughter, officials said.

‘Dogs are consumed in their millions in this country every year. That’s a fact. We have to take care of this situation,’ said Lee Hae Woo, head of the city government’s department of food safety.

‘We plan to recommend to the central government that dogs are classified as livestock,’ he said. ‘This is like a hot potato but we don’t pretend the issue does not exist.’

South Korea’s capital has always been ambivalent about dogmeat. To avoid adverse publicity before the 1988 Olympics, the city banned dogmeat and snakemeat as ‘abhorrent food’.

The order is now largely ignored and an estimated 500 dogmeat restaurants operate in Seoul alone.

The reclassification proposal sparked angry reactions from animal activists, who staged street protests and launched on-line signature campaigns.

‘No other country in the world but South Korea gives a legal green light to dogmeat consumption,’ the Korea Association for Animal Protection said in a statement.

‘South Korea’s motto is globalisation but it seeks to go back to the Stone Age as far as dogmeat consumption is concerned.’

Lee Won Bok, association president, said if the proposal became reality, dogmeat consumption would increase drastically.

‘It’s horrible to imagine dogmeat on display next to beef and ham at supermarkets. It would also be nauseating to see roasted dogmeat on the menu of your restaurant,’ he said. — AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 2nd April 2008

Taiwan’s presidential contender Ma Ying-jeou from Kuomintang (国民党) became the official President-elect after winning 58% of the votes. He will officially take over from outgoing President Chen Shui-bian of Democratic Progressive Party on 20th May 2008. This change of Presidents will see more than just paper work as both Presidents have different visions and methods of running the country. While President Chen is pro-independence – resulting in raised tensions across the Taiwan Straits, President Ma has promised no change in current status quo for the next 5 to 10 years. What is means is an opportunity for China and Taiwan to work things out. China has promised that as long as Taiwan is not pushing for independence, it will continue to working closely to improve bilateral ties.

The stepping down of President Chen will also submit him to legal prosecution for various allegations including corruption. He was not tried earlier citing Presidential immunity. However, this will change on the day that he steps down.

All eyes are on President Ma now as many are awaiting forward-moving policies that will benefit Taiwan and the people as a whole. Many are hoping for reforms that will help them cope with the ever rising cost of living as well as getting a corrupt-free nation. Even then, there are still claims that the KMT is corrupt and Beijing-friendly – although the latter is likely to help in bilateral ties that could help Taiwan economically.

TAIPEI – TAIWAN’S opposition candidate Ma Ying-jeou surged to a landslide victory on Saturday in a presidential election dominated by concern over the economy and hopes for better ties with China.

‘This is a victory for people who hope for change and openness and reform,’ he told his jubilant Kuomintang (KMT) supporters after trouncing ruling party chief Frank Hsieh by around 17 percentage points.

Soft-spoken and Harvard-educated, Mr Ma has promised to work for closer ties with China, including a peace treaty to put an end to decades of hostilities, and to revive Taiwan’s own stuttering economy.

The vote has been closely watched by Beijing and Washington for signs of a new approach in the flashpoint region after eight years of recurring tensions under outgoing President Chen Shui-bian.

Final official figures released by the election commission showed that Ma won 58.45 per cent of the vote, with Hsieh on 41.55 per cent.

‘This election result is not a personal result, nor a victory for the KMT, it is a victory for all Taiwanese people,’ Mr Ma said.

‘Your voices are heard. People have the right to demand a better life. Only change can bring hope, only change can provide opportunities.’

At almost the same time, Mr Hsieh was admitting defeat in a speech to his own despondent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters in Taipei.

‘We accept defeat. It’s my own defeat, it’s not the defeat of the Taiwanese people. Please don’t cry for me,’ he said.

Mr Ma will formally take over on May 20, when Mr Chen steps down after serving a maximum two terms in office.

KMT supporters sang, danced and let off firecrackers as they partied in the capital Taipei and elsewhere.

Mr Ma’s victory gives the KMT overall control of the nation, as they had also crushed the DPP in parliamentary elections in January on the back of an economic malaise and weariness at the strained relations with China.

Soochow University professor Liu Bih-rong, who specialises in cross-strait relations, said the landslide was unexpected.

‘The election result shows Taiwan has grown into a more mature democracy,’ he said, predicting relations with China would improve at a faster pace.

‘It shows that the Taiwanese people have given the KMT the mandate to open direct links and push for the one common market with China.’

After casting his ballot earlier in a Methodist church building in Taipei, Mr Ma had vowed to normalise trade and investment relations with China.

China still claims Taiwan for itself and has threatened an invasion if it declares independence, confining the US-allied island to a murky limbo of de facto but unrecognised sovereignty.

The two have had virtually no direct links since the island split from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war.

‘I have always said that, if I get elected, I will engage the mainland on many issues, but I will protect Taiwan’s identity and also its security,’ Mr Ma said.

Mr Ma has been more aggressive than Mr Hsieh in proposing a radical overhaul of economic ties to allow Taiwanese companies access to the vast mainland market, while permitting Chinese investors to pump funds into the economy here.

The island is the world’s 17th largest economy, mainly on the back of its information technology sector, but is losing jobs and investment to mainland China, while incomes are stagnant.

Mr Hsieh also favours closer ties but is more cautious, warning Ma’s plan may engulf Taiwan with Chinese money and labourers.

China’s military crackdown in Tibet also allowed Mr Hsieh to attack Mr Ma’s plan, but it appeared to have cut little ice.

Separately, two referendums on joining the United Nations failed to muster enough turnout to make them valid, with less than 36 per cent of voters making the effort to cast their ballot.

The referendums were controversial because Taiwan lost its UN seat in 1971 to China, which has blocked its 15 attempts since then to rejoin. — AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 22nd March 2008