TAIPEI�Taiwan�s close-fought presidential race ended Saturday with incumbent Chen Shui-bian claiming a narrow victory over rival candidate Lien Chan, who immediately pledged to challenge the result. But the president, still recovering from Friday�s gunshot wound, saw his plans for a referendum warding off a military threat from Beijing invalidated for lack of turnout, RFA reports.

Chen and running mate vice-president Annette Lu, who survived an apparent double-assassination attempt the day before voters went to the polls, garnered 6,471,970 votes, or 50.11 percent of the total. Lien and running mate James Soong won 6,442,452 votes, or 49.89 percent of the total, Taiwan�s Election Commission Web site said Saturday.

But Taiwan�s first island-wide referendum, which asked whether the island should beef up defenses against China, failed to pass Saturday for lack of votes, the Central Election Commission said.

The referendum�s failure was a big blow to Chen, who had argued that such a defeat would be a victory for China, which opposed the votes. Only 45 percent of eligible voters participated in the two ballot issues, the commission said. To be valid, the referendum needed at least 50 percent participation.

The elections proceeded without further incident following the dramatic shootings, as Chen and Lu recovered from non-life threatening injuries. But a flurry of conspiracy theories and rumors has already arisen around the shootings, which took place during a rowdy campaign parade in Chen�s electoral heartland of Tainan City.

�There was not just one but a series of actions that made all of us feel that there were clouds of suspicions,�� Lien told a cheering crowd at his campaign headquarters. Soong told the crowd, �Let�s let the whole world know that this is an unfair election.��

Chen claimed his re-election as a victory for democracy, while vice-president Annette Lu dismissed Lien�s claims. �If I were Lien and Soong, we could be angry too, and would also like to beat some other people at this moment,� said Lu, a former dissident who went to jail during the struggle for democracy under one-party rule by the Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalist party. �But where were they, when we were jailed for Taiwan�s democratic development?�

Lu referred to the shooting of her and Chen during an open-jeep campaign parade in Tainan city Friday as �battle between bullets and ballots.�

No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the shootings, which followed a bitter campaign pegged largely to relations with China and marred by mudslinging. Police have already ruled out the possibility of mainland Chinese involvement in the shootings, calling them �a criminal matter.�

But opposition campaigners, Taiwan media, and ordinary people have already raised questions over the timing of the incident, which seemed just right to give the flagging Chen-Lu ticket a boost at the polls.

�The main suspicions we�re hearing from the opposition are about why Chen and Lu were in the same jeep together, why they were not wearing their bulletproof vests, and why they were taken to the Chi Mei hospital in Tainan, which is ultimately controlled by a presidential policy adviser, Hsu Wen-long,� correspondent Xiao Rong told RFA in a live report.

He said Chen�s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had replied that the arrangements to ride in the same jeep were part of its campaign strategy, that the bulletproof vests were thought unnecessary in such friendly and familiar territory, and that the Chi Mei hospital was the best in the city.

The DPP also pointed out that hospital director Jan Chi-hsien was also an adviser to the KMT, now in opposition. Chen�s referendum has been condemned by mainland Chinese officials, who see it as dangerously close to a referendum about whether or not the island should seek formal independence and sovereignty as Taiwan.

Currently, it is ruled under the constitution of the Republic of China, a sovereign entity set up on the Chinese mainland by the KMT after the 1911 revolution of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and which has scant recognition in the international community. Beijing has threatened military action should Taiwan make any move towards independence, including a formal referendum on the independence issue.

Taiwan has been governed separately from the Chinese mainland since 1949, when the KMT fled to the island after losing a civil war to the Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong. The KMT enforced a one-party authoritarian regime for 40 years after its arrival, before a nascent political opposition, led by the pro-independence DPP, forced peaceful democratic change during the 1990s. Saturday�s ballot was Taiwan�s third full and direct presidential election. #####


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