Thousands of angry protesters were still on the streets of Taipei on Monday demanding a recount of Saturday's presidential poll, narrowly won by President Chen Shui-bian after he was shot on the eve of the ballot, RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese services report.
Protesters began arriving outside the presidential palace in downtown Taipei in the early hours Sunday morning, calling on the island's high court to nullify the election result pending a recount. Their numbers rose to around 20,000 at the peak of the demonstration. Protesters also staged marches and sit-ins in the southern cities of Tainan and Kaohsiung, Chen's electoral heartland.
"Our demands are very simple and very clear," defeated opposition candidate Lien Chan told a crowd of supporters who chanted demands for a recount and blew whistles and air-horns. "We hope that the relevant departments dealing with the shooting incident can set up a special group of investigative and medical personnel to explain to the entire nation exactly what went on."
"This group could include experts from Taiwan and overseas. There are so many experts who could help up to understand what really happened, to give a full explanation," Lien said.
The high court sealed the ballot boxes Sunday after Chen defeated the KMT (Nationalist) Party's Lien by just 29,000 votes out of nearly 13 million.
Neither Chen nor Vice President Annette Lu, both wounded by gunshots while campaigning in Tainan Friday, has appeared in public since claiming victory on Saturday night. No one has been arrested in the assassination attempt and police say so far they have no leads.
"The margin was too small, and things have dragged on for too long," one student supporter of Chen protesting outside the election center in Kaohsiung told RFA's Mandarin service. "Both sides should calm the people at this very important moment in our history," said the student, who said he was proud to have cast his first-ever presidential vote Saturday.
In a bid to dispel conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting, which some opposition supporters have suggested was a setup aimed at boosting Chen's flagging showing at the polls, the presidential office released pictures of Chen and Lu receiving medical treatment in the emergency room at Chi Mei Hospital in Tainan. Hospital officials have agreed to opposition requests to preserve video footage and medical records taken after the shooting.
"The main reason we didn't release these photographs at the time is that we didn't want to cause excitement among the supporters of the president and influence either public calm or the result of the election," spokesman Huang Chifang told a news conference.
"To take the set-up theory seriously is to play jokes with the life of the president. If the jeep is traveling at that speed, how are you going to ensure that the bullet only grazes his abdomen without hitting his vital organs? If you just think about it for a minute you will see that not only is the set-up theory not logical, it is lacking in human feeling," Huang said.
Meanwhile, some protesters still remained outside the presidential palace Monday, with Lien vowing to stage another demonstration the following weekend.
Chief prosecutor Lu Ren-fa said the opposition demand for a vote recount would be handled according to the law. The high court has appointed three judges, but they are unlikely to reach a decision for up to six months, Lu said.
For protesters on the streets of Taiwan, that may be too long to wait. Chen is under increasing pressure to stabilize Taiwan after a bitter campaign exposed deep divisions in public opinion over relations with China, which has threatened force if the island moves towards formal independence.
Chen's referendum on relations with Beijing &mash; condemned by mainland Chinese officials as dangerously close to the issue of independence — ; flopped disastrously Saturday and was declared void because of low turnout.
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.
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. It has scant recognition internationally.
In Hong Kong, Professor Zheng Yushi of Hong Kong City University said Taiwan's system of universal suffrage argued in favor of direct popular elections in Hong Kong too.
"Taiwan's democracy proves that democracy is possible in Chinese societies," Zheng told RFA's Cantonese service. "If we hope to see a peaceful union, to make Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" formula attractive, Taiwan is an example. Chinese leaders should allow Hong Kong to develop democracy."