Taiwan recount to settle vote dispute
Taiwan Monday began an islandwide recount of 13 million ballots cast in the hotly disputed March "presidential" election in an effort to settle lingering controversy over the outcome.
More than 2,000 judges and court clerks, as well as 1,500
lawyers,joined "central election commission" officials at 21 district courts
across the island to open sealed ballot boxes and monitor the recount.
Some 480 teams, each comprised of seven or eight judges, lawyers and representatives from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT)-led opposition, will re-examine all 13.5 million ballots printed for the March 20 voting.
During the recount,the judges and court clerks assigned to the task will temporarily stop their duties, hearings and administrative work until the tally is completed.
The recount is expected to take 10 days, ending just before the planned May 20 inauguration for re-elected "president" Chen Shui-bian of the ruling DPP.
However, lawyers for both sides have said they are not confident of meeting that deadline due to a shortage of staffing.
In line with Taiwan's election laws, Chen is considered the winner unless the recount proves his KMT opponent Lien Chan won the vote.
"The initial process is expected to be finished before Chen's inauguration. But we have no idea how long the high court needs to rule on the disputed ballots," said KMT spokesman Chou Shou-tsun.
Ballot counters won't provide a daily tally and results are to be announced by the island's high court once the recount is completed, Taiwan-based ETtoday.com said.
Chen won the "presidential" vote by a razor-thin margin of 0.2 per cent, or less than 30,000 votes, following a mysterious election-eve shooting that lightly injured him and his running mate, Annette Lu.
Opposition candidate Lien Chan, also chairman of the KMT, has alleged that the election was marred by numerous voting irregularities,including a record 330,000 spoiled ballots.
To challenge Chen's victory, Lien has filed two separate lawsuits with the high court -- one demanding a recount of the ballots, while the other seeking to nullify the whole election and hold a new vote.
Lien's lawyers reportedly said they hope that the recount will uncover irregularities that will bolster the case for a new election.
"We just want a process that's fair, accurate, transparent, independent and legal," Lien was quoted as saying Monday in Panchiao, a suburb of the capital city of Taipei.
"Then I believe everyone will accept the results."
According to the agreement reached by both the KMT-People First Party alliance and the DPP, teams carrying out the recount must contain at least two lawyers representing both parties, a judge, a court clerk and two "central election commission" employees.
Whenever a controversial ballot is discovered, it will be presented to the Taiwan high court for a final ruling.
The recount will focus on the 330,000 disqualified ballots -- triple the number in the last "presidential" vote four years ago.
"How long the whole recount process will take depends on the number of disputed votes which will need decisions by the high court," said court spokesman Wen Yao-yuan.
Political uncertainty over the recount Monday sent Taiwan stocks plunging to their lowest level so far this year.
The Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange finished 215.21 points lower, or 3.6 per cent, at 5,825.05.
That was the worst close since December 29 when shares ended at 5,804.89 points.