Taiwan votes in presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday, with three candidates standing for the position of president.
The current president, Tsai Ing-wen, is constitutionally barred from standing again after two terms in office.
Lai, also widely known by his English name William, is running for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Currently Taiwan’s vice president, he is also the DPP’s chairman.
Lai, whose father was a coal miner, has riled China for comments he made before standing for the presidency about being a “worker for Taiwan independence”.
He says he wants to maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, not change Taiwan’s formal name of the Republic of China, and will, like Tsai, not provoke or take risks. Lai and Tsai both reject China’s sovereignty claims.
Lai, along with Tsai, has repeatedly offered talks with China but has also been rebuffed, as Beijing views them both as separatists. Lai, 64, and Tsai say only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
Lai has deep experience in government, having previously served as a lawmaker, mayor of the southern city of Tainan and premier. His running mate is Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s high-profile former de facto ambassador to the United States.
Hou, 66, is the candidate for Taiwan’s main opposition party the Kuomintang (KMT), whose government fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Hou is the mayor of Taipei’s neighbouring city New Taipei, though he has taken a leave of absence to run for president. He was re-elected as the mayor in a landslide in 2022.
The KMT traditionally favours closer ties with China but strongly denies being pro-Beijing.
Hou has said he will restart talks with Beijing, starting with lower level events like cultural exchanges, but rejects China’s “one country, two systems” model of autonomy which Beijing hopes one day to get Taiwan to accept.
Hou, formerly Taiwan’s top policeman, also says only the island’s people can decide their future, and has pledged to keep boosting the island’s defences and maintain good relations with the United States.
He has lambasted Lai as a dangerous separatist and denounced what he says are smears from the DPP portraying him as a patsy of China’s communist party.
Hou also supports the KMT’s position that both Taiwan and China belong to one single China but each side can interpret what that means. He strongly opposes Taiwan independence.
Hou’s running mate is the fiery media personality Jaw Shaw-kong.
Ko, a former Taipei mayor, is the candidate for the small Taiwan People’s Party, which he founded in 2019.
Ko, a surgeon by training, has focused on bread and butter issues like the high cost of housing, which has won him a loyal base of young supporters, and has described himself as the only true change candidate.
Ko says his bottom line for dealing with China is that Taiwan’s democracy and way of life has to be respected.
He had been talking to the KMT about a joint ticket to take on the DPP, but those talks collapsed in November in bitter disagreement.
Ko, 64, has chosen as his vice presidential candidate one of the party’s lawmakers, Cynthia Wu, whose family is a major shareholder of conglomerate Shin Kong Group.