updated 5/14/2005 6:42:03 AM ET 2005-05-14T10:42:03

Taiwan’s ruling party won elections Saturday for a special assembly charged with amending the island’s constitution, giving a big boost to President Chen Shui-bian’s policy of resisting unification with rival China.

With 99 percent of the ballots counted, the Central Election Commission said the Democratic Progressive Party had won 42.5 percent of the vote, against 38.9 percent for the opposition Nationalist Party.

The vote — for the ad hoc National Assembly — had developed into a test of strength for Chen’s policies, following the visits to China of Nationalist chief Lien Chan, and James Soong, head of the People First Party.

That party garnered only 6.1 percent of the vote, coming in fourth behind the Taiwan Solidarity Union, a pro-independence party, whose spiritual godfather is former President Lee Teng-hui. The TSU won 7 percent of the vote.

Chen’s supporters had urged followers to vote in large numbers, saying that a vote against the Democratic Progressive Party was a vote for eventual unification with China.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a protracted civil war. Lien and Soong support eventual unification with the mainland but Chen wants to strengthen Taiwan’s status as a self-governing entity — a desire that exasperates Beijing, and changed the nature of Saturday’s poll.

In the election, voters chose a party list of delegates to consider a package of constitutional reforms — reducing the legislature from its present 225 members to 113, extending lawmakers’ terms from three to four years, amending the electoral system to reduce the number of lawmakers per constituency, and enshrining public referenda as the only means for approving future constitutional changes.

Both the DPP and the Nationalists support the changes, and they are expected to be approved by the new National Assembly.

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