Taiwanese President Agrees to Recount

Posted in China , Asia | 23-Mar-04 | Author: Keith Bradsher and Joseph Kahn| Source: The New York Times

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Tuesday, March 23 — President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan agreed Tuesday morning to a recount of his disputed victory by a razor-thin margin in the presidential elections on Saturday, giving in to pressure from street demonstrations and the United States.

President Chen said he would instruct lawmakers from his Democratic Progressive Party to vote with lawmakers from the opposition Nationalist Party to pass a special law making the recount possible. The government said a recount could start as soon as Thursday, but could then last for days because considerable work would be involved in recounting and verifying more than 13 million ballots.

Taiwanese law normally makes it very difficult to hold a recount. Even the closest of elections — President Chen defeated the Nationalist candidate, Lien Chan, in the initial count on Saturday by just two-tenths of one percent — do not automatically qualify for a recount.

Hundreds, and at times thousands, of Nationalist supporters have been occupying the boulevard in front of the Presidential Office since Saturday night. But a greater source of pressure on the government was the conspicuous silence of the United States in acknowledging Mr. Chen as the winner of a second four-year term.

Taiwan depends very heavily on the American military to defend it against a possible attack by mainland China, which has vowed to prevent the island from pursuing formal independence.

Current Taiwanese law provides for a recount only when fraud or other malfeasance can be demonstrated. The Nationalists contended Monday that they had found some hints of vote rigging. They said they were still looking for evidence to support another contention, first made Saturday, that President Chen might have staged a shooting incident on Friday afternoon — widely described as an assassination attempt — in which he was slightly injured in the abdomen, drawing national sympathy less than 19 hours before the polls opened.

The Nationalists criticized President Chen's proposal as not going far enough. Su Chi, the party's senior spokesman and senior foreign policy adviser, said the party was nervous that Mr. Chen's proposal could get stuck in the legislature, and wanted him to issue an immediate emergency order requiring a recount as well.

Mr. Su said the Nationalists also wanted the creation of a fact-finding investigation into the shooting, with particular attention given to why President Chen ordered a national military alert afterward. The party contends that the alert prevented as many as 200,000 police and military personnel from voting.

The Defense Ministry, which Mr. Chen's administration controls, denies that any personnel were prevented from voting beyond the usual numbers on duty. But the mystery deepened Monday, when the ministry announced that the defense minister, a retired general who used to be a member of the Nationalist Party, had submitted his resignation on Sunday, citing a need to seek treatment for an eye problem.

President Chen's proposal of the legislation marks his first public willingness to accept any recount at all, and may make one inevitable. Under the proposal, which would be retroactive to last Saturday, any election with a margin of victory of less than 1 percent would be subject to an automatic recount.

In a speech early Tuesday afternoon, President Chen expressed regret that anyone thought he might have staged the shooting and said he would welcome broad participation in an investigation of the incident, although he provided few details.

Taiwan's stock market, down as much as 5.1 percent on Tuesday morning, regained part of this lost ground after the Democratic Progressive Party accepted a recount, closing with a loss of 2.9 percent. The market remains well below the level of last week, having fallen 6.7 percent on Monday. [Page W1.]

On Sunday, Taiwan's High Court ordered that all ballot boxes be sealed, and on Monday it began considering the Nationalists' demand for a recount.