Saturday, March 20, 2004

History Repeats Itself

It's looking like Taiwan is about to have a retread of the "Hanging Chads" fiasco of America's 2000 presidential elections.

HONG KONG, March 21 (UPI) -- Taiwan was thrown into political chaos following the presidential election Saturday, after President Chen Shui-bian won re-election by a narrow margin and opposition candidate Lien Chan declared the poll invalid and called for a recount.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, crowds still milled in the streets of Taipei and riot police remained on alert should violence erupt among rival political camps.

Kuomintang leader Lien Chan refused to concede defeat after the final results showed Chen the winner by a margin of less than 30,000 votes. Lien said there had been too many irregularities surrounding the election, in which more than 80 percent of the island's 16 million eligible voters participated. He asked the Election Commission to seal the ballot boxes and re-examine the votes.

The final count was 6,471,970 votes for Chen, with 6,442,452 for Lien. In addition, more than 300,000 votes were declared invalid, a number more than ten times larger than the margin of difference between the two candidates. Within hours after the vote, the Kuomintang filed a complaint with the Supreme Court contesting the validity of the election.


The challenge to the election result and the failure of the referendum will be welcome news to China's leaders.

This is the second failed presidential attempt for Kuomintang leader Lien Chan and his running mate, James Soong, who ran on separate tickets in the last election in 2000. They expected an easy win after pooling their parties to run against Chen.

Speaking to his supporters after the election, a clearly agitated Lien said that events surrounding the election were highly questionable. He pointed out that no details on the shooting had emerged, and that the number of votes declared invalid should be investigated. He said his party would pursue legal means to have the vote declared null and void.

Suspicions abound that the attempted assassination of Chen on Friday was staged, with members of different camps accusing each other. Kuomintang supporters dredged up reports that the hospital where Chen was taken had been preparing Friday morning for a VIP visitor, and asked why pictures said to be of Chen's wounded stomach did not show his face.

At a late-night press conference on Friday, police said they had found two bullets, which they believed to have been fired by a trained marksman using what appeared to be a homemade weapon. By late Saturday they still had no suspect in the case.

In Chinese-language chat rooms, conspiracy theories were relayed and embellished from Taiwan to mainland China and Hong Kong. "The whole thing is just too bizarre to be real," said a Hong Kong resident surnamed Yu.


There were no reports of violence, despite the strong police presence. An outbreak of violence would be particularly worrying in Taiwan, as it could invite intervention from Chinese forces. China has said it would send troops to Taiwan under any of three conditions: should the island declare independence from China, should foreign forces interfere in its affairs, or should riots occur in the territory.

Here I have to agree with this Yu person, whoever he or she may be. These clowns need to get their act together quickly: the last thing Taiwan or the rest of the world needs is an excuse for China to attempt to invade to "restore order." Any such action would be almost certain to provoke a Sino-American war.