Taiwanese poll officials blamed for thin victory

Associated Press

Taipei, May 15:

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian’s ruling party said today that its razor-thin victory in the recent disputed election would have been much larger if new voting rules — which resulted in thousands of invalid ballots — had been better explained to voters. Chen won the March 20 poll by just 0.2 per cent, or 30,000 votes. Opposition candidate Lien Chan has refused to accept the result because there were more than 300,000 invalid votes. Judges and court officials began a ballot recount on Monday, and are expected to finish just before Chen’s May 20 inauguration. Several problems have emerged, including missing voter lists, mismarked ballots and votes sealed in the wrong bags.

The opposition is hoping that the irregularities turned up during the recount will help bolster the case it has filed with the High Court asking for new elections. But Chen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party said its attorneys claimed the majority of the more than 300,000 invalid votes had been intended for the president. If the stricter rules hadn’t been introduced, Chen would have won the election by 100,000 votes instead of only 30,000, DPP official Liang Wen-chieh said.

He said the number of invalid votes was so high because officials failed to properly explain legislation, introduced before the election, that limited the number of places on the ballot paper where voters could mark their choice. Chen’s party said it wasn’t likely that the recount would lead to a new election, which Lien wants. "Using the recount process through disputes over valid and invalid votes to overturn the election result is not to be expected," DPP attorney Lo Ping-cheng said.

Opposition lawyer Tsai Yu-ling said the invalid vote figures, provided by the president’s party, were wrong. The recount in over half of Taiwan’s 23 administrative areas had been completed by midday today, attorneys said. The court will make a final ruling on how each of the disputed votes — which were singled out by lawyers representing the rival candidates - should be counted. The opposition said the recount has turned up more than 30,000 disputed ballots, hinting at the possibility of fraud. However, the ruling DPP said that were only hundreds of disputed ballots, and that they were the result of sloppiness by election officials.