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Taiwan: Agreement Reached on Framework for Vote Recount - 2004-03-24

Taiwanese legislators have reached agreement on a vote recount and expect passage of legislation by the end of the week. The proposed law comes in response to Saturday's presidential election, which incumbent President Chen Shui-bian won by a margin of less than a percentage point.

Defeated opposition candidate Lien Chan is alleging election fraud, pointing to the invalidation of 2.5 percent of the ballots. He also wants an investigation into an apparent failed assassination attempt on President Chen one day before the vote. The attack is said to have swayed the election in Mr. Chen's favor.

Spporters of Mr. Lien have been staging a protest vigil in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, refusing to leave until their concerns are addressed. The demonstration has been mostly peaceful, though one man was arrested Wednesday for brandishing a gun.

Opposition lawmakers initially rejected the administration's proposed recount law, saying it would delay a tally of the ballots. They instead demanded President Chen declare a state of emergency, allowing him to issue immediate orders for both the recount and an investigation into the fraud allegations.

But with general agreement now reached on the new law - which would apply to all future elections with less than a percentage point margin of victory - the administration says a recount could be completed within six days after the law passes.

James Huang, a scholar with Taiwan's top government research institute Academia Sinica, says the recount offers the only realistic chance of changing the election results. The fraud allegations, he says, do not seem strong enough to overturn the president's re-election. "I don't think, judging from the current evidence they provided, it would be possible to imagine having a whole other election in a month or half a year," he says.

But Mr. Lien is sticking to his demand for an investigation into the fraud charges, regardless of the outcome of the recount. His supporters also are planning a mass protest march on Saturday.