Taiwan's Leader Re-elected, but Tally Is DisputedTAIPEI, Taiwan, March 20 — President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan was declared to have won a second term by a razor-thin margin on Saturday, but the opposition Nationalist Party called for the election to be annulled and suggested that the president might have staged an 11th-hour assassination attempt to get votes.
The Central Election Commission declared that President Chen had 29,518 more votes than Lien Chan, the leader of the National Party, out of 13.25 million ballots cast, awarding another four-year term to the man whom mainland China, the rival across the Taiwan Strait, has repeatedly labeled as dangerous and willing to risk war to achieve greater independence for this island.
In calling for a court-supervised recount and promising a separate lawsuit to have the entire election annulled, Mr. Lien cited a large number of invalid ballots and uncertainty about what happened on Friday afternoon when President Chen was shot while riding in a motorcade through his hometown, Tainan, in southern Taiwan. He suggested that the shooting might have swayed voters toward Mr. Chen.
"The slim gap has been achieved under layer upon layer of suspicion," Mr. Lien told a teary-eyed crowd of supporters. "It is not a fair election. Prepare to annul the election."
The commission declared 337,297 ballots to be invalid — more than 11 times President Chen's apparent margin of victory. There was uncertainty Saturday night over whether polling places had followed consistent standards in counting votes.
Mr. Chen's top aides said that the assassination attempt was real and that there was no evidence of fraud in the vote and no need for a recount.
The disputed outcome complicates what had already become a delicate diplomatic test for China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan, and the United States, Taiwan's main ally. China remained officially neutral in the election but clearly favored Mr. Lien, who says he would like to improve relations with China.
Chinese leaders have long feared that Mr. Chen wants to lead Taiwan toward a formal independence, and they have vowed to prevent that by using military force if necessary. If his victory stands, the immediate prospects for reducing tension across the strait appears remote.
Addressing a cheering crowd of supporters of his Democratic Progressive Party on Saturday night, Mr. Chen asked Communist Party officials in Beijing to respect the election and cooperate with him.
"I urge the Chinese authorities to face the election and the referendum with a positive attitude and accept the choices of the Taiwanese people," he said.
Mr. Chen had angered Beijing by holding a referendum on cross-strait issues in tandem with the presidential poll, a move the United States also criticized as an election ploy that might inflame tensions. But in a silver lining for Beijing, the referendum failed to garner the 50 percent voter participation necessary to be considered valid. While 80.3 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the presidential election, only 45 percent cast ballots on the two referendum questions, both on cross-strait relations, after the Nationalists called for voters to abstain.
The Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing issued a statement that welcomed the failure of the referendum, but did not address the acrimonious vote for the presidency.
In Washington, Adam Ereli, the deputy spokesman for the State Department, said the United States was confident that both sides in Taiwan would pursue legal means to resolve their differences.
Taiwanese officials of both parties had hoped that this election would solidify the island's democracy and draw a sharp contrast with the still repressive rule in China. The election may prove instead to be a severe test of political stability and the independence of the courts, which will be asked to rule on the vote.
Senior officials from both parties compared the disputed vote here to the problems in Florida in the 2000 election.
Mr. Lien had been narrowly favored to win until the shooting on Friday. One or more bullets grazed President Chen's lower abdomen and Vice President Annette Lu's right knee while they were riding in a motorcade through Tainan.
Su Chi, a senior adviser to Mr. Lien and a top Nationalist Party official, said Saturday night that the shooting raised a number of questions that investigators did not have time to answer before the vote.
He said Mr. Chen, running for office in Tainan 18 years ago, appeared at an election-eve rally with an intravenous drip and claiming that he had been poisoned by the Nationalists, then the governing party. He appeared healthy the next day, Mr. Su said, saying the poisoning charge was an election gambit.
Hsiao Bi-khim, spokeswoman for the Democratic Progressive Party, denied that Mr. Chen had feigned the poisoning.
Mr. Su also said the party had obtained documents from Taiwan's Secret Service showing that the hospital Mr. Chen was taken to was not the one designated by the presidential guard to treat him in case of emergencies, and was further from the scene.
"The only explanation was that he wanted to go to an environment that he could control," Mr. Su said. "If you go to a public hospital, someone would spill the beans."
Ms. Hsiao said the private hospital where Mr. Chen received treatment was not on one of the Secret Service's lists because it did not have a helicopter pad. But she said the private hospital was on an internal list of acceptable hospitals.
Separately, Mr. Su said the number of ballots ruled invalid was too large and noted that an above-average number of ballots had been declared invalid in Tainan. He said the Nationalists would demand a recount and file suit in the High Court of Taiwan to overturn the election.
"We still want to go through the legal approach," he said. "We don't want to go through the activist, populist approach. We are not revolutionaries. We are stabilizers."
One reason there may have been so many invalid ballots is that a coalition of nonprofit groups had called on voters to cast invalid votes. This was meant to protest that the main political parties were too interested in relations with China and the concerns of the affluent, and had not paid enough attention to the plight of the poor and the disabled.
Voters in Taiwan are given a paper ballot, a stamp and an ink pad, and asked to mark the name of the candidate they prefer. The ballots are counted by hand.
Ms. Hsiao said the protest vote was the "only explanation" for the number of invalid ballots, and she criticized the Nationalists for alleging fraud.
Warren Mitofsky, an American pollster who helped a local television station conduct surveys of voters leaving the polls, said the only voters among whom Mr. Chen commanded a clear lead were those who made up their minds in the past week. Mr. Mitofsky's exit polling had shown Mr. Lien winning the vote by a solid margin of 6 percentage points — 53 percent to 47 percent — until official results from many precincts began pouring in.
Among the shooting's odd elements was the seemingly relaxed security around the president. He stood in a roofless vehicle driven slowly through a crowded, two-lane street. Neither he nor Ms. Lu wore bulletproof vests. Spectators freely exploded firecrackers along the route, and the police said no one, including the president's bodyguards, had heard shots being fired.
Among other unanswered question were why both the president and vice president suffered light surface wounds despite being struck by bullets. The bullet that hit the president ended up lodged in his clothing and was discovered after he arrived at the hospital, medical officials said.
The police said that one or more handguns were used in the shooting and that the bullets found, one made of lead and the other of copper, were likely to have been homemade.
The pace of the investigation seemed somewhat casual. Cordons had been removed from the suspected shooting site by Friday night, and car and pedestrian traffic around the area appeared normal.
Lin Chun-hong, who runs a small sundry shop near the spot in the road where the police believe the shooting took place, said his 20-year-old son, Chia-rong, discovered two spent cartridges on the road more than three hours after the shooting, allowing the police to pinpoint the suspected spot where the shots were fired.
"The cartridges were sitting under a police car that was parked there," Mr. Lin said Saturday morning. "Later they drove the car away and we found them."
When Mr. Chen showed up to vote at his usual polling place in another elementary school in eastern Taipei on Saturday morning, he was led into the building by guards brandishing assault weapons, a rare sight in Taiwan, where the police are mostly not armed and the presidential bodyguard seldom shows any weapons.
Mr. Chen walked more slowly than usual. But he still waved enthusiastically to a throng of supporters near the school entrance. Using a popular nickname for himself, he proclaimed a divine purpose in his survival.
"God hoped A-bian could come vote for the referendum, and so did not allow A-bian to die for the moment," he said.