Chen wins poll, results
disputed By Laurence
TAIPEI - Taiwan has been in chaos since
President Chen Shui-bian, wounded in an assassination
attempt, apparently won the close and bitterly contested
presidential election by the slimmest of margins -
30,500 votes out of a total of 13.25 million cast.
governing party and opposition camps have erupted across
the island of 23 million people, considered a breakaway
province by China.
The controversial referendum
on Chinese missile deployment and Taiwan's relations
with the mainland was defeated - because less than the
required 50 percent of participating voters cast
ballots. China has denounced the referendum - any
referendum that gives legal standing to the voters of
what it calls a rogue province - as an attempt to "split
The presidential election
results have been challenged, and the opposition
pan-blue alliance filed motions for a recount in both
the Taiwan High Court and the Administrative Supreme
Court. Taiwan's High Court ordered all ballot boxes
sealed, as the opposition demanded a recount.
Protests erupted across the island after
incumbent President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic
Progressive Party (DPP) narrowly defeated presidential
challenger Lien Chan of the pan-blue alliance and
chairman of the once-mighty Kuomintang (KMT) that ruled
Taiwan, often brutally, for 50 years.
Vice President Annette Lu were slightly wounded in an
apparent assassination attempt Friday and may have
benefited from both a sympathy vote and an anti-violence
vote in the close election.
supporters to protest Lien refused to concede the
election, and in a shocking speech he appeared to urge
his supporters to take to the streets to pressure the
government to annul the results.
violence the DPP cancelled its victory party outside its
Taipei election headquarters and asked its followers to
disperse quickly and quietly. There were some reports of
DPP supporters attacked and beaten by angry pan-blues in
Taipei's East District and police feared trouble on
In the wake of Lien's political call to
arms, a huge crowd of pan-blues remained outside the
alliance's Taipei headquarters all night as part of an
angry protest which would continue, the pan-blue leaders
said, until there was a recount of the vote.
Motions for a recount were filed with both the
Taiwan High Court and the Administrative Supreme Court
late Saturday night.
In a speech Saturday night,
Lien said: "If we are to keep quiet now, how could we be
held accountable to history and future generations? For
these reasons I've decided, and the alliance as a whole
has agreed with me, to raise a motion to have the
election declared invalid ... Given that the election
was filled with a series of suspicious events, we demand
that the Central Election Commission seize and seal all
ballot boxes for a recount."
Invalid!' By Sunday noon huge crowds had
assembled in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei
and in the cities of Taichung and Kaohsiung. The
pan-blues had urged supporters to join a monster protest
in front of the Presidential Office on Sunday afternoon
and police feared the demonstration might turn violent.
A near-hysterical crowd chanted, "Invalid!
Invalid!" - their anger whipped into a frenzy by KMT
deputy spokeswoman Kuo Su-chun and KMT Taipei City
Councilor Wang Hao.
The election took place only
a day after an assassination attempt against President
Chen Shui-bian, who suffered a grazing bullet wound
across the abdomen. Opposition supporters have suggested
that the attack was a DPP-contrived stunt, calculated to
win a sympathy vote.
It is a measure of the
irrationality that has now gripped the opposition that
in the face of common-sense arguments that one does not
shoot someone in the stomach as a stunt, many now claim
in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary
that Chen was never, in fact, injured at all. They have
demanded that he present himself and publicly display
As for the DPP, Chen gave a dignified
victory speech. He did not gloat and he stressed the
need to heal the huge divisions in society that the
amazingly bitter election campaign had opened up. The
DPP then asked supporters to go home to avoid possible
To an outsider, this election debacle
is evocative of the disputed US presidential vote in
Florida in 2002 - with Taiwan's ugly ethnic politics
thrown in for good measure. There is good reason,
however, to believe that they are not too similar.
Though Lien is demanding a recount, and a
recount will almost certainly be granted, it is hard to
imagine that it is going to make a lot of difference to
the final vote total. Of particular concern to the
opposition is that the number of declared invalid votes
- 337,000 - was 10 times the margin of the DPP victory.
Taiwan voting fast, local,
technology-free But Taiwan is not Florida with
its antiquated voting machines and hanging or pregnant
chads. Taiwan voting is technology-free: voters must use
a plastic stamp or "chop" to imprint an ink mark
signifying the candidate of their choice. This leaves
little doubt about voting intentions.
even more important is the way votes are counted in
Taiwan. Polling stations usually cover fairly small
districts, with the result that although the vote is
tabulated quickly there can be a great deal of openness
in the counting. Votes are pulled from the ballot boxes,
displayed to the assembled observers who usually include
party representatives, the ballot is read out and then
added to the running total of whichever side it
supports. The public nature of this process means that
there is little disagreement over what is or is not a
valid vote or which votes go to which candidates.
public, consensual process, it is hard to imagine a
recount will alter the vote tally significantly. There
were a high number of invalid votes because one activist
groupe had been urging voters to cast invalid ballots in
order to show their dissatisfaction with the whole
The Invalid Ballot
Alliance, which advocated invalid ballots, is an
alliance of labor rights and social groups
advocating for the disadvantaged. It encouraged
voters to cast invalid ballots in order to
protest the dominance of politics by well-funded
political parties, demonstrated by the fact
that both the presidential candidates
were rich men.
pro-Beijing opposition had, like Beijing, been deeply
opposed to the referendum process. They had first urged
a boycott and noncooperation by election officials; then
they realized that such a boycott by officials would be
illegal and criminal; then they urged official passive
resistance and voters not to cast ballots in the
Theories abound Given that
a recount is highly unlikely to change the result of the
election, it is difficult to understand Lien's strategy.
Theories abound concerning Lien's "strategy".
Some say that he was brought up within an authoritarian
system and cannot accept the possibility that his party
could lose an election. Other say he wants to promote
civil strife, perhaps even civil war, so that he can
appeal to China to use its military to intervene and
thereby overthrow Taiwan's political system. Still
others say that both Lien and his running mate James
Soong are likely, unless they had won office, to find
themselves embroiled in long legal cases, Lien for tax
evasion and Soong over NT$248 million (US$7.4 million)
he is accused of pocketing from KMT party funds when he
was party general secretary. According to this theory,
Lien's behavior Saturday night is part of a high-stakes
attempt to get some kind of legal immunity for himself
and Soong in return for calling off their angry
In the current atmosphere, virtually
no thought has been given to the fact that the
referendum, which was run in tandem with the
presidential election, failed to get enough votes - it
needed 8.2 million - to be considered valid. President
Chen had personally promoted the referendum that
contained two questions:
Should China be asked to retarget nearly 500
missiles pointed at Taiwan and, if it refuses, whether
Taiwan should seek advanced military defense systems;
Should Taiwan reopen a dialogue with the mainland in
an effort to improve relations.
The situation in
Taipei remained tense Sunday evening and the DPP urged
supporters to stay home and off the streets.
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