TAIPEI: Looking weak and tired just days after he was shot, Taiwan's leader appeared in public yesterday for the first time since his disputed re-election victory and he called for a vote recount that he promised to accept “100%.”
As President Chen Shui-bian gave his televised address, the shouts and chants of thousands of protesters could be heard in the background.
The crowd has been camping out in front of the presidential office since Saturday's tight vote, demanding a recount.
“I won't object to a full-scale recount to help us find out the truth,” Chen said as he urged the protesters to go home and let the courts deal with the dispute.
Chen's challenger, Lien Chan, insisted that the election was marred by numerous irregularities, though he has provided little evidence to prove this.
Lien has also suggested that the mysterious shooting that lightly wounded Chen one day before the polls may have been staged to gain sympathy votes.
The president, who campaigned on a platform of standing up to rival China, won the vote with only 50.1% of the ballots, while challenger Lien, who pushed a more conciliatory approach toward mainland leaders, got 49.9%.
The election also involved Taiwan's first island-wide referendum: a vote that focused on China's military threat and possible peace talks with Beijing.
The referendum, spearheaded by Chen, failed to pass because more than half the voters joined an opposition-led boycott of the vote.
Yesterday, China's Xinhua News Agency sided with the opposition and accused Chen of “political fraud” and trying to “kidnap the will of the Taiwanese people” with the referendum.
Lien has demanded that the president order a recount and set up an independent task force – with both foreign and local experts – to investigate the shooting. Police have yet to identify suspects or other important leads.
Looking calm and reflective but a big groggy, Chen said that it was “extremely regrettable” that some people were accusing him of faking the shooting. The president has released photos of the wound and of his physicians treating the injury.
But the president added: “Some people have asked if the shooting was real or faked. I could understand such doubts because the campaign was so heated.”
Chen also said he resented the election fraud allegations.
“They have labelled me a vote-rigging president, and this is the biggest humiliation to my character,” he said in a voice that was raspier than usual.
But the president said he wanted officials to quickly do a recount to address all doubts.
“I will accept it 100%, absolutely accept it,” he said.
Taiwan's courts have said it could take up to six months to respond to Lien's demand for a recount and his separate attempt to nullify the election, meaning the crisis could drag on for months.
Lien's biggest complaint about the vote was that an unusually high number of ballots – 330,000, or 10 times Chen's margin of victory – were ruled invalid.
Earlier on Monday, ruling party lawmakers proposed resolving the election dispute by proposing an amendment to the presidential election law that would trigger a recount when a candidate wins by less than 1% of the votes. The party said the law could be applied retroactively to Saturday's election.
“We hope it can pass today so the protesters can return home,” said Chen Chi-mai, a caucus leader of Chen's Democratic Progressive Party.
But opposition parties rejected the proposal, insisting that a solution must address both the recount issue and the investigation of the shooting and its effect on the vote. – AP