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Taiwan Recount Still Up in Air

Taiwan's high court opened its first hearing into an opposition lawsuit to nullify the results of the island's disputed "presidential" election on Friday, but made no ruling.

Taiwanese media reports said the presiding judges asked the lawyers of the rival groups -- the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Kuomintang (KMT) -- to sort out their differences over how a recount should proceed.


After a two-hour debate, Wu Ching-yuan, head of the three-member tribunal, decided to give each side five days "to work out the procedure and method for the recount" before coming back to court.


The two parties at Friday's hearing remained divided over technical issues including how to proceed with the recount and who should pay for it, the Taiwan-based ETtoday.com reported.


A speedy recount could help resolve a political crisis over the closely fought poll, which opposition candidate Lien Chan of the KMT claimed was marred by numerous voting irregularities.


About a week ago, the island's "central election commission" certified the victory of Chen Shui-bian from the ruling DPP in the March 20 election by a razor-thin margin of 0.2 percent, or 30,000 votes out of a total of 13 million ballots cast.


The opposition, however, has filed a motion with the high court demanding a recount, which Chen has endorsed.


Lien said earlier a mysterious election-eve shooting that slightly wounded both Chen and his running mate, Annette Lu, caused a swelling of sympathy votes.


His lawsuit aims to nullify Chen's re-election and cites voting irregularities and a record 330,000 invalid ballots that were triple the number rejected in the last "presidential" election four years ago.


To save money, the opposition wants to examine first the valid ballots for Chen and invalid votes and blank votes.


But in a sign that compromise was possible, Tsai Yu-ling, one of Lien's lawyers, reportedly said after the hearing that they would not object to a full recount and would let the court decide on the cost.


Chen's lawyers say all ballots -- including spoiled and blank votes -- should be re-tallied.


Lien's legal team had insisted that the government pay for the recount because it involved an important public issue.


But Chen's lawyers said that since Lien was the plaintiff in the civil lawsuit, the law required him to cover the costs. A full recount would cost an estimated 100 million New Taiwan dollars (US$3 million).


Opposition lawyers also reportedly plan to file another lawsuit to invalidate the poll, which they hope could lead to a new election.


The opposition has demanded the establishment of a special commission to investigate the shooting of Chen.


It also wants a similar commission to probe rumors that many soldiers and police were unable to vote because they were put on a security alert following the shooting.


Chen's government has refused the opposition demands, saying they are unnecessary and would unfairly cast doubts on the government's credibility.


The opposition says it will continue to hold public protests if its demands are not met.


(China Daily April 3, 2004)


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