TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou's popularity ratings increased after a court cleared him of corruption-linked charges, putting him way ahead of his opponent in March's election, newspaper polls showed on Saturday.
The surveys were conducted after Taiwan's high court on Friday cleared Ma of prosecutors' charges accusing him of misusing T$11.176 million ($344,000) while serving as Taipei mayor. A lower court had exonerated him in August.
A record 45 percent of respondents said they would pick Ma and his running mate, Vincent Siew, both from the main opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), in the presidential elections on March 22, the China Times newspaper said.
Ma's closest opponent, Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), had 24 percent of the 805 respondents supporting him and his running mate, ex-Premier Su Tseng-chang, the poll in the Chinese-language newspaper showed.
In a separate survey conducted by the United Daily News, 52 percent of the people who participated in the poll supported the Ma-Siew ticket, while Hsieh and Su had 23 percent.
The United Daily News said Ma's lead had increased by four percentage points from an October survey.
Ma and the KMT party are generally regarded as more China-friendly than the DPP, which favours independence. That fact has led many to believe that relations with China will warm if Ma is elected president.
China is often suspicious of incumbent President Chen Shui-bian, who must step down due to term limits next year.
China sees democratic Taiwan as part of its territory since the civil war of 1949, which sent the once dominant KMT fleeing to the island. It has threatened to use force, if necessary, to bring Taiwan back.
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