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Taiwan "election" protesters keep vigil
By Xiao Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-03-26 00:51

Taiwan's ruling and opposition parties remained deadlocked in an election row Thursday as protests by thousands of supporters of challenger Lien Chan entered a fifth straight day.

Protesters kept vigil outside the "presidential" office of Chen Shui-bian in Taipei to demand a recount after Saturday's disputed vote.

The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has asked supporters to rally tomorrow to step up pressure on the government to nullify the election, which the party says was marred by numerous voting irregularities.

Concerns over the planned weekend demonstration, which some analysts fear may further complicate the island's political situation, dragged down Taiwan's shares Thursday.

The Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange finished down 56.83 points, or 0.9 per cent, at 6,156.73 in dealings valued at 119.3 billion New Taiwan dollars (US$3.58 billion).

Some dealers predicted that the key index may drop as low as 6,000 today.

As a big boost for the KMT's morale, Hsu Hsin-liang, former leader of Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has joined the protesters to start a hunger strike on Wednesday night over what he claimed was an "unfair" election.

A statement issued on Hsu's behalf said he would continue his hunger strike until the facts surrounding last Friday's shooting of Chen and his running mate, Annette Lu, are cleared up.

The shooting that slightly wounded both Chen and Lu on the last day of campaigning has created intense suspicion.

Hsu was DPP chairman between 1991 and 1993 and again between 1996 and 1998 but he has been pointing fingers at the DPP administration partly for its pro-independence stance since 2000 when the DPP ended the KMT's five-decade rule of the island.

The move of Hsu, an influential leader of the ethnic Hakka people, was set to strengthen the support for the opposition bid to challenge Saturday's election result.

DPP candidates Chen and Lu, who were seeking a re-election, reportedly led their challengers by a razor thin margin of less than 30,000 votes.

According to initial figures, Chen and Lu won 50.11 per cent of the total votes against 49.89 per cent for Lien Chan and James Soong of the coalition of the Kuomintang (KMT) and People First Party.

The opposition called into question the result immediately after the election, claiming the polling was marred by irregularities and the unexplained election-eve shooting.

It demanded a recount and filed a petition to nullify the election.

The island's "parliament" Thursday agreed to present to a full house on Friday a motion to revise the election law to allow for a recount that could end the election controversy.

The breakthrough agreement at a "parliament" committee meeting that had been scheduled, cancelled and rescheduled could mark a major step towards ending the current political crisis.

Chen had proposed breaking the stalemate by revising the election law retroactively to make a recount automatic whenever a candidate wins by less than 1 per cent of the votes as Chen did on Saturday.

The opposition initially rejected this process as too slow and said the revision was another stalling tactic by Chen to prevent an immediate recount.

Meanwhile, KMT party spokesman Justin Chou said his party would try again to file a lawsuit to invalidate Saturday's poll after Taiwan's high court rejected its earlier case on Wednesday on the grounds the central election commission had yet to formally declare a winner.

The official declaration is set for today.

Lien reportedly said it would not be appropriate for the election commission to announce a victor while the election process and the result are in dispute.

The island's high court has yet to rule on Lien's separate demand for a recount.

In line with the current law, the court has already begun considering whether a recount is needed, but the three-judge panel working on the issue could take up to six months to issue a decision.

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