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2004-04-02 21:23:53

    Taipei, April 2 (CNA) The Taiwan High Court opened its first hearing Friday on the country's first lawsuit seeking to nullify the March 20 presidential election.

    Instead of asking the court to recount all the ballots from the presidential election, attorneys for the plaintiffs, Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan and his running mate, James Soong, requested the court to reexamine only the ballots for President Chen Shui-bian and his running mate, Vice President Annette Lu, who beat Lien and Soong by a wafer-thin margin.

    Citing the president's decision to hold an unprecedented national referendum simultaneously with the presidential election on March 20, an unexplained assassination attempt in which Chen and Lu suffered light injuries on the eve of election day, and the government's decision to put the armed forces and police on higher alert after the shooting, the plaintiffs' attorneys claimed the election was not fair and a recount of the votes is necessary.

    They requested the re-examination of only the votes for the winning ticket, as well as the 330,000-odd invalid ballots in the election, which they claimed were far more than in previous elections.

    Attorneys for Chen and Lu, who have already agreed to the plaintiffs' request to recount all the votes in the election, were outraged that the plaintiffs changed their request and limited the scope of the reexamination to the disfavor of the defendants.

    Instead of reexamining only the votes for the Chen-Lu ticket, they insisted all the votes be reexamined.

    They also argued with the plaintiffs' attorneys over who should bear the cost of the recount, which is estimated at about NT$100 million (US$3.03 million) . The plaintiffs' attorneys said the defendants should bear the responsibility while the defendants' attorneys said the plaintiffs should.

    Instead of handing down a ruling, Judge Wu Ching-yuan, who led two other judges in hearing the case, asked attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants to work out an out-of-court agreement within five days on the range and procedure of the reexamination and how the recount should be financed. The hearing will be resumed after the court receives their written agreement. "Don't blame the court if the recount cannot begin because no one wants to finance it," Wu said.

    Today's hearing drew a large number of journalists, although neither the plaintiffs nor the defendants appeared.

    The plaintiffs' request to reexamine the votes for the Chen-Lu ticket has drawn fire from Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), with Cheng Wen-tsan, the DPP deputy chief for the Department of Culture and Communications, saying that the plaintiffs' request proves the insincerity of their claim that they wanted a recount of all the votes.

    However, Legislator Chiu Yi from Soong's People First Party argued that the limited scope of reexamination of the votes for the Chen-Lu ticket and invalid ballots will save recount costs.

(By Maubo Chang)


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