Spoiled votes a key issue in Taiwan election dispute

TAIPEI: One of the biggest questions about Taiwan's disputed presidential election is why there were more than 330,000 invalid ballots – 10 times the winner's margin of victory. 

The loser suspected fraud. Political activists said they successfully encouraged people to cast invalid ballots to show dissatisfaction with the two candidates. But the justice minister pointed to a crackdown on vote buying. 

The mystery might be solved if the government and opposition parties can agree on how to do a count and resolve a political crisis that has sent thousands of protesters into the streets. 

President Chen Shui-bian squeaked by with 50.1% of the votes – only 30,000 votes, or 0.2% more than his challenger, Lien Chan. Lien immediately demanded a recount, and one of his complaints was that there were 337,297 invalid ballots. 

But some political activists are taking responsibility, saying the ballots were spoiled by their campaign to cast protest votes. 

“The high number of spoiled ballots shows that many people are still independent enough to speak their mind and not give up participation in politics,” said Ho Yen-tang of the “Million Spoilt Ballots Alliance.'' 

Weeks before the election, the group had sent e-mail messages and mobile phone text messages to people, encouraging them to cast protest votes. 

But the government was sceptical about the activists' claims of success. Justice Minister Chen Ding-nan said that stricter rules about how voters can pick their candidates on ballots might have produced the high number of invalid votes. – AP  

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