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Taiwan's Chen Wins Second Term - 2004-03-20


Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, won re-election by an extremely narrow margin, one day after surviving an apparent assassination attempt. The losing candidate plans to challenge the results.

Supporters of President Chen Shui-bian cheer as the vote tallies come in. Mr. Chen defeated his rival, Lien Chan, by a margin of less than a percentage point.

Observers say the president was helped by a sympathy vote, after he was slightly wounded in an apparent assassination attempt Friday. No one has been arrested for the attack, and no one has taken responsibility.

A defiant Lien Chan said he wants the election results to be declared invalid, and the ballot boxes sealed, so votes can be examined later.

Mr. Lien says there are still so many questions unanswered about the shooting that he does not know how to accept the results. But he urges supporters to be calm.

Mr. Chen campaigned on a platform emphasizing Taiwan's sovereignty apart from China, which considers the island part of its territory.

Taiwan split from the mainland in 1949, when Nationalists fled to the island following the Communist Party's takeover of China.

Beijing has been a sharp critic of President Chen in the past, though it remained relatively quiet about Taiwan in the weeks before the election.

Mr. Lien's party, the Kuomintang, held indirect talks with China during its more than 50 years in power, and is portrayed as more conciliatory toward Beijing.

China has refused to recognize President Chen's Democratic Progressive Party.

David Huang, a scholar with Taiwan's top government research institute, Academia Sinica, says President Chen's re-election may push China to rethink its stance.

"Probably, they have to be thinking about 'Well, if you continue to try to resist the Chen administration, it will not in the end get anywhere.' So, they will probably make some policy revisions," he said.

President Chen came into office in 2000, after capturing less than 40 percent of the total vote. He won because of a split in the then-ruling Kuomintang.

This time, facing a single opponent, Mr. Chen was able to make headway in parts of the island that have traditionally supported the Kuomintang.

Voters were also to decide on a referendum, placed on the ballot by the Chen government, to decide how to handle relations with China.

While Mr. Lien had called the referendum unnecessary and provocative, President Chen had called it an essential democratic exercise.

Early results show a majority of voters took part in the referendum, indicating another possible victory for Mr. Chen, because the result of the voting would be invalidated, if less than 50 percent of voters participate.

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