Recount demand as Taiwan President scrapes victory

Opposition activists today refused to disband protests until authorities agree to re-count Taiwan’s weekend presidential election, won by the incumbent one day after he was wounded in a mysterious shooting that critics say influenced the vote.

Opposition activists today refused to disband protests until authorities agree to re-count Taiwan’s weekend presidential election, won by the incumbent one day after he was wounded in a mysterious shooting that critics say influenced the vote.

Governments in the region said they hoped that the political turmoil over President Chen Shui-bian’s narrow re-election victory on Saturday would not lead to greater tension between the island and archrival China.

Chen, who campaigned on a China-bashing platform, won with just 50.1% of the vote, compared to 49.9% for opposition candidate Lien Chan, who has pushed for a more conciliatory approach toward China. The margin was just 30,000 votes.

The opposition said Saturday’s election was marred both by Friday’s shooting and by voting irregularities. They say the attack unfairly earned Chen sympathy votes, and Lien raised questions about more than 330,000 ballots that allegedly were spoiled.

“The whole world is concerned over whether Taiwan has had a fair election,” Lien’s running-mate, James Soong, said in Taipei early today while visiting opposition activists rallied near the Presidential Office to demand a recount.

“Down with Ah-Bian,” the Lien supporters shouted, using Chen’s nickname.

Lien separately has petitioned for the election results be nullified, and it could take months for the courts to decide how to respond. Taiwan High Court chief Chang Chin-hsiung said that a ruling would come within six months at the latest.

The election dispute cast a cloud over Taiwan’s stock market, which had already stopped trading for the day on Friday when Chen was shot. Shares opened by plunging more than 6.5% today, close to their daily limit of 7%.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer urged Chen to act with “a very great degree of moderation” in dealings with China, which wants Taiwan to rejoin the mainland.

“I think the last thing any of us want in the Asia-Pacific region is an escalation of tension between Taiwan and mainland China,” Downer said.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called for moves toward stability. “It is important that the confusion there ends quickly,” he said.

Chen and Vice President Annette Lu were shot and slightly wounded on Friday while riding in an open Jeep in Chen’s hometown of Tainan. Nobody has been arrested, and police have not identified any suspects.

The opposition believes the shooting may have given Chen the edge he needed to win.

But a referendum championed by Chen and also held Saturday failed because many voters decided to boycott it.

The ballot question asked whether to beef up Taiwan’s military defences against China.

Lien’s party argued that Chen did not have the legal authority to call the referendum and successfully persuaded Taiwanese to boycott the vote.

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