- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Chen Shui-bian, leader of the Republic of China (Taiwan), yesterday agreed to support a recount of ballots to end a dispute over his re-election in Saturday’s vote.

Mr. Chen won by the narrowest margin in Taiwan’s history, triggering accusations of fraud and demands for a recount.

In Washington, Taiwan’s top diplomat hailed the announcement as a clear indication that the wrenching election dispute was moving toward a peaceful settlement.

Earlier, he said in an interview that the turmoil after the vote may have a negative effect at home and abroad, but that the test for a democracy barely 15 years old could produce positive results in the long run.

“If the controversy is resolved peacefully, with the coming ruling of our special court on the results accepted by all, it would demonstrate the resiliency for democracy in Asia,” said Chen Chien-jen.

President Chen, in a televised address, pledged to accept the results of a recount “100 percent.” As he spoke, thousands of protesters gathered in front of the president’s office to demand a recount.

It was the third day in a row that the crowds, filled with supporters of the rival Nationalist Party, challenged the train of events that began Friday night with grazing shots fired at Mr. Chen and Vice President Annette Lu as their campaign motorcade rolled down the streets of Tainan.

After Mr. Chen was re-elected, his challenger, Lien Chan of the Nationalist Party, raised suspicions that the shooting might have been staged to win sympathy for the incumbents from the Democratic Progressive Party.

Mr. Chen was re-elected by a margin of fewer than 29,000 votes out of 13 million cast. Adding to the opposition complaints was an unusually high number of invalid ballots — 330,000, or 10 times Mr. Chen’s margin of victory.

Taiwan’s High Court has agreed to look into the dispute, but has said it would take six months for a decision.

Chen Chien-jen, representative of Taiwan’s mission in Washington, known as the Taipei Economic & Cultural Representative Office, said a court specializing in election disputes will rule on a ballot recount. The United States does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

He also predicted that, regardless of the outcome, Taiwan’s relations with the Chinese mainland will proceed with greater caution than in the past.

Although voters re-elected Mr. Chen, they rejected his proposal for a referendum on Taiwan’s response to military threat from mainland China. The referendum drew sharp condemnation from Beijing and was criticized by President Bush.

Taiwan’s leaders from both parties “are sure to factor this into their policies toward [the mainland],” Chen Chien-jen said.

“There is a general convergence between the two parties in the way they view China,” he said.

Taiwan split from China in 1949 when Nationalists fled to the island from communist advance on the mainland. China considers self-ruling Taiwan a renegade province and opposes any talk of Taiwanese independence.

“Both [parties] agree that there is no need to declare independence since Taiwan is already a sovereign state,” Mr. Chen said.

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