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Official Vote Recount Begins in Taiwan - 2004-05-10

Officials in Taiwan have begun recounting votes in the island's extremely close presidential elections last March. The manual recount of millions of ballots is taking place after the opposition candidate, Lien Chan, called the elections "unfair" and filed a lawsuit to contest the results.

Mr. Lien lost the March poll to incumbent President Chen Shui-bian by only 30,000 votes out of the more than 13 million ballots cast. Immediately after the results were announced, Mr. Lien's supporters began street protests in Taipei that lasted for days.

Mr. Lien claimed that a failed assassination attempt on Mr. Chen and Vice President Annette Lu the day before the election had won the incumbent unfair sympathy votes.

Speaking Monday in Taipei, Mr. Lien expressed confidence in the recount. Mr. Lien says if the recount is fair, accurate and transparent, he believes everyone will accept the results.

Analysts, however, say Mr. Lien's persistence on the recount is causing his Nationalist Party, or KMT, to lose credibility in the eyes of some voters. They say this has prompted concern among party moderates who think the KMT should focus instead on preparing for the December legislative elections.

"There is an internal debate over whether he should pursue this legal case against the election and the ruling party," says Philip Yang, a politics professor at National Taiwan University. "There are factional struggles emerging in the KMT regarding which direction they should be oriented for their political future."

President Chen agreed to a recount days after the March 20 elections, in the hopes of ending a dispute that was raising concerns about the long-term political stability of the island.

Officials hope to have the recount completed by May 20, the day Mr. Chen is to give his inaugural address.

Newspaper editorials in Taipei Monday, however, expressed skepticism about that, saying ten days might not be enough time to recount millions of ballots.