(For further Taiwan election coverage, see EXT5 <GO>)
Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Airlines doubled the number of extra flights from China to Taiwan this year to handle demand from passengers returning home for the Lunar New Year and to vote in elections that will be a referendum on President Ma Ying-jeou’s push for better ties with the mainland.
Chinese and Taiwanese airlines added 375 extra flights between Jan. 9 and Feb. 6 of this year, compared with 183 for Lunar New Year 2011, when there was no election, according to data provided by the island’s Civil Aeronautics Administration.
Airlines added 20 flights in the first eight days of the traditional holiday travel period last year, said Chu Kuan-wen, director of the aeronautics administration’s Air Transport Division. This year, they added 101 flights Jan. 10-Jan. 14, the day of the election, in which absentee voting isn’t allowed.
“Passengers returning home this week are likely for election votes,” Chu said in a phone interview yesterday.
The return of voters may benefit Ma, said Alexander Huang, a professor of political science at Taipei-based Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies. Ma’s push for closer economic ties with China has resulted in Taiwanese investment in China rising to $12.2 billion in 2010, up 26 percent from 2007, the year before he took office.
Preference for Ma
“If the race is very close, then returnees coming back to cast their votes could play a role in the outcome,” Huang said. “Those who have business in China or work there clearly have a preference for Ma.”
Ma’s main opponent, Democratic Progressive Party leader Tsai Ing-wen, has said closer economic ties with China risk eroding the island’s autonomy.
Ma, 61, head of the Kuomintang party, has brought Taiwan closer economically and politically to the mainland since taking office in 2008, ending a six-decade ban on direct air, sea and postal links, reducing tariffs and boosting two-way investment.
Ma was widening his narrow lead over Tsai in public opinion polls taken prior to a blackout period for voter surveys that began Jan. 4. Taiwanese law bars publication or release of polls 10 days prior to presidential elections.
About 800,000 Taiwanese live in China, according to Chao Chien-min, deputy minister at the Mainland Affairs Council. About 180,000 returned to vote in 2008, when Ma won in a landslide, Chao said. Turnout in that election was 76 percent.
Extra 77 Flights
China Airlines Ltd. will have an extra 77 flights around the Lunar New Year holiday this year, compared with 36 extra flights last year, said Hamilton Liu, a spokesman for the company.
The airline added 20 flights yesterday and today, with more than 7,000 seats returning to Taiwan booked, Liu said in a phone interview yesterday.
TransAsia Airways Corp. added two flights on the 13th to Taipei and Taichung, which are 95 percent booked. Ten flights will be added to meet New Year demand, a spokeswoman said.
EVA Airways Corp. and affiliate Uni Airways Corp. are adding 51 flights between China-Taiwan for the Chinese New Year holiday, including 16 before the elections, a spokeswoman at the company said.
China Airlines and EVA are offering free shuttle bus services from the northern Taoyuan International Airport to as far as Kaohsiung, 300 kilometers (186 miles) away, for passengers arriving from China after midnight before Chinese New Year, they said on their websites.
--With assistance from Janet Ong, Andrea Wong and Yu-Huay Sun in Taipei. Editors: Nicholas Wadhams, Joshua Fellman
To contact the reporters on this story: Adela Lin in Taipei at email@example.com; Tim Culpan in Taipei at firstname.lastname@example.org
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