Protests erupted in several major cities as Lien supporters demanded an immediate recount after incumbent President Chen Shui-bian's narrow victory in the closest such election in Taiwan's history.
Elections for the President and Vice President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) were held on March 20, 2004. President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu of the Democratic Progressive Party were re-elected by a margin of 0.22% of valid votes over a combined opposition ticket of Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan and People First Party Chairman James Soong. Lien and Soong have refused to concede and are challenging the results.
The election, officially the Election for the 11th-term President and Vice-President of the Republic of China, was the third direct presidential election in Taiwan's history and the 11th presidential election overall under the 1947 Chinese Constitution. A consultative referendum took place on the same day regarding relations with the People's Republic of China.
In February 2003, the KMT and PFP agreed to run a combined ticket representing the entire Pan-Blue Coalition with Lien Chan for president and James Soong for vice president. The campaign emblem for the Lien-Soong campaign was a two seat bicycle with a blue figure in the first seat and an orange figure in the second. There were initial doubts to this pairing since it was believed that the two men personally disliked each other - during the 2000 campaigns, Lien accused Soong of positioning his family graves to interfere with Lien's Feng Shui forcing Lien to reposition his graves. Additionally, it was thought to be difficult for the two men to agree upon who would run for president and who would run for vice president. Though Soong polled ahead of Lien in 2000 and was thought to be much more charismatic than Lien, he ended up running for vice president. The PFP's poor showing in the 2001 legislative election may have played a role. Initially, it was believed that the Lien-Soong ticket would be a sure win, given that both men garnered a combined 59.9% of the vote in 2000.
In the months leading up to December 2003, there was speculation as to whether President Chen would choose Vice President Annette Lu as his running mate. Polls had consistently showed that Chen would do better with another candidate such as Taipei county administrator Su Tseng-chang or Kaohsiung mayor Frank Hsieh and many of the DPP's most popular lawmakers had petitioned Chen to seriously consider another candidate. After several weeks of very public infighting between various factions of the DPP, Chen formally nominated Lu as his running mate on December 11. They were backed by the Pan-Green Coalition.
The existence of only two tickets on the ballot led to several protest movements against both coalitions - most notably the Alliance of One Million Invalid Ballots - asking people to disqualify their ballots on purpose. This was partly responsible for the high number of invalid votes compared to the 2000 election.
Although the political spectrum on Taiwan is defined in terms of Taiwan independence versus Chinese reunification, both campaigns took moderate positions on this issue. The reason for this is that people who are influenced greatly by either independence or unification have already decided for whom they will vote, and the goal of both campaigns has been to capture the moderate middle.
The theme of the Pan-Green Coalition was to portray themselves as Taiwanese nationalists and reformers and the opposition as corrupt and lacking in loyalty to Taiwan. The theme of the Pan-Blue Coalition was to question Chen's competence and also to focus in on issues which interested specific interest groups. The Pan-Blue Coalition staunchly defended the existence of the Republic of China and also rejected reunification under one country, two systems. They also abandoned the Under the Roof of One China policy.
The main issues in the campaign were relations with the People's Republic of China, political reform, and the economy. In addition, although they tend not be noticed by the international press, local issues were important in the campaign, particularly because these issues influence undecided voters. These issues varied from county to county but included funding for irrigation projects, the location of expressways, and location of local administrative boundaries.
As the election approached, the tone of campaigning became increasingly negative, with charges of tax evasion, draft dodging, illegal financial transactions, and domestic violence on the part of Lien Chan. Most observers attributed the negative nature of the campaign to the fact that each campaign had moderated their positions on the issues to be similar to each other, leaving nothing other than personal attacks to attract the few uncommitted voters in the race.
On the day of the election, each member of the electorate (most adult citizens aged 20 and upwards) stamped one from the two choices of president/vice-president tickets on the ballot;. Since Taiwan does not provide absentee ballots, large numbers of Taiwanese expatriates living in North America and Mainland China returned to Taiwan to vote. Typical estimates indicate that about 20,000 people travelled from North America and between 100,000 and 150,000 people travelled from Mainland China. Most analysts believe that the voters from North America were be split evenly between the two candidates, but that those from Mainland China voted overwhelmingly for Pan-Blue.
Polls indicated that Taiwan is split with about one-third identifying themselves as Pan-Blue, one-third identifying themselves as Pan-Green, and one-third as centrist. They also show very little cross-party voting with over 90% of people who identify with one party group stating that they will vote for the party.
Pan-Blue tends to do well among Mainlanders, Taiwanese aborigines, and Hakka. They also have the support of people from age 30-50, among college educated Taiwanese, among the very rich, and very poor, and among people from northern and eastern Taiwan. Pan-Green does well among people 20-30 and people from 50-60, among people with less formal education, and among people from southern Taiwan. One other interesting statistic is that people who have Internet accounts are more likely to support Pan-Blue, but people without Internet accounts are more likely to support Pan-Green.
The margin in favor of Pan-Blue narrowed significantly after the 228 Hand-in-Hand Rally, with some polls showing Pan-Green in the lead. Taiwanese law forbids publishing any poll results, either current or historical, less than ten days before the election.
The DPP attempted to portray the Lien-Soong ticket as one which would sell out Taiwan to the PRC, and emphasized constitutional reform, proposing a new constitution, and a "peace referendum." This has lead to fears that Chen intends to use a new constitution and a referendum to declare Taiwan independence. Worries about this have caused the United States at several points to ask for, and receive assurances that Chen has not abandoned the Four Noes and One Without policy.
The Lien-Soong ticket attempted to portray Chen as someone who let politics get in the way of improving the Taiwanese economy. Originally emphasizing Chen's inability to establish the three links with Mainland China, the Lien-Soong ticket changed its message, in light of the SARS outbreak in mid-2003, to focus more on what they see as Chen's inability to deal with the recession. Until October 2003, the Lien-Soong strategy appeared to be to avoid doing or saying anything controversial to keep its lead. This strategy was widely seen as counterproductive by the end of October when Pan-Green started to pull ahead.
Chen's rise in the polls in 2003 caused the opposition to change its campaign strategy. To counter Chen's platform for a new constitution by 2008, the opposition campaigned for a major constitutional change by 2004. In addition, the opposition stopped its stalling of a referendum bill.
By the end of November 2003, the Lien-Soong ticket had appeared to recover some of the losses in polls that had occurred in October.
Both groups, in January 2004, seemed not to be focusing on issues of external policies, but instead on issues of personal finances. The Pan-Green Coalition raised the issue of Lien Chan's personal wealth and the properties which they asserted that the Kuomintang had illegally acquired while it was the ruling party. In response, the Pan-Blue Coalition asked why Chen Shui-bian has become much wealthier after assuming the presidency. Curiously most polls indicate that while Chen is widely considered the cleaner candidate and that the public has doubts as to Lien's and Soong's honesty and the source of their wealth, this does not appear to affect voting decisions.
Most observers believed that the People's Republic of China (PRC) would have preferred to see Chen Shui-bian replaced by an administration less sympathetic to Taiwan independence and more in favor of Chinese reunification. However, some observers believed that the PRC cared less about who became the President of the ROC, than that this person establish economic linkages which Beijing believes would bind Taiwan irrevocably to the Mainland.
In contrast to the elections of 1996 and 2000, the PRC was quiet in this election until early November. Most observers believed that this was because the PRC has learned that any comments, especially in the form of threats, have been counterproductive. The PRC broke its silence in mid November 2003 and issued several very sharp threats that it would not stand by if Taiwan declared independence. This widely was seen as in response to two factors. In early November 2003, Chen Shui-bian took an unofficial trip to the United States in which he was much more publicly seen than before. This trip increased his popularity on Taiwan to the point where most polls indicated that he was even or slightly ahead of Lien. The trip in November 2003, also alarmed the PRC in that it appeared to convince them that the United States would do less to constrain Chen Shui-bian than they had earlier believed. In December 2003, after the United States clarified its position on Taiwan stating support for the one China policy and opposition to any referendum that would tend to move Taiwan toward independence, the PRC became relatively quiet and focused its attention on the proposed referendum rather than on the presidential race.
In February 2004, former Justice Minister Liao Cheng-hao, attempted to establish four campaign office branches on mainland China with the purpose of convincing Taiwanese businessmen on the mainland to support Pan-Blue. News of this caused an uproar on Taiwan, especially after Liao was photographed with several fugitives from Taiwan. Lien Chan quickly distanced himself from this action, and Liao wrote an essay stating that his activities were not authorized. Shortly thereafter, the PRC Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman said, "We did not, do not and will not interfere with elections in Taiwan...We do not care who will be elected. What we care about is the winner's attitude towards cross-Taiwan Strait relations and national reunification," and PRC issued instructions to local officials not to allow Taiwanese businessmen to openly campaign on the mainland.
At the same time, a number of organizations were operating to help Taiwanese businessmen return to Taiwan in order to vote. Though these organizations were formally political neutral, most Taiwanese businessmen on the mainland widely favor Pan-Blue.
Official televised debates of the candidates : Televised debates between the two major candidates were held on February 14 and February 22. The parties were unable to reach agreement on dates for other presidential debates and for vice-presidential debates, though both candidates provided televised statements on February 28.
Popular mobilization: The main figures from the Pan-Green Coalition, including Chen Shui-bian and former president Lee Teng-hui, initiated the 228 Hand-in-Hand Rally in which more than two million people joined hands from the very north of Taiwan to south to form an unbroken human chain. As an act of defiance against the PRC as well as a promotion of Taiwanese national identity, it occurred on February 28 in remembrance of the February 28 Incident. This demonstration was inspired by the human chain comprised of two million that was organized in the Baltic states in 1989, where the Soviet Union later invaded to stop the Baltic states from declaring independence. Although billed as non-political, some of the symbolism of the demonstration, particularly the point in the event where participants "turn away from China," veered clearly toward support of Taiwan independence, and hence was not attended by members of the Pan-Blue Coalition.
In response, the Pan-Blue Coalition planned a series of events they dubbed "Heart Connecting to Hearts." These events included several rallies on 228, a blood drive, and a run in which a torch was passed from person to person through all 369 townships and cities of Taiwan in the course of two weeks. However, these events were unsuccessful at preventing a shift in support to Pan-Green after the 228 demonstration.
In response to declining polls numbers, the Pan-Blue coalition quickly organized a program major rallies near the end of the election. Originally, the rallies were to protest black gold or political corruption, but the theme of the rallies were changed to "Change the President, save Taiwan." Critics of Pan-Blue argued that this change in theme was because Pan-Blue could be credibly be seen as anti-corruption. Supporters argued that this change was intended to focus the election on Chen's presumed lack of competence as president.
On March 13, the Pan-Blue Coalition held 24 rallies across Taiwan. The two million people attending beat gongs and made other noise and shouted "Change the President, save Taiwan" at 3:20 PM, in reference to the election date. The theme of the rallies were widely seen as an effort by Pan-Blue to shed the image that they were not really committed to Taiwan and would sell the island out to the PRC.
Soong led the rally in Taichung and knelt to kissed the ground along with his wife. Ten minutes later, Lien after giving a speech in Taipei which heavily talked about the need to love Taiwan and defend it, unexpectedly lay down prone on the ground kissing it with his wife and KMT Secretary-General Lin Fong-cheng.
Because of the poll blackout, there are no published reports which track the effect of 313 on Taiwanese public opinion, although anecdotal reports suggest that Pan-Blue supporters were deeply moved by Lien's actions while Pan-Green supporters saw them as disgusting and hypocritical.
Public endorsements and scandals : Buddhist master Wei Chueh endorsed Lien on March 11 and also urged his followers to boycott the referendum. This led to criticism from some other Buddhist leaders that his blunt condemnation of Chen broke the convention that religious figures remain politically neutral. In addition, Wei Chueh's temple was the object of many protests and had to be shut down until after the election.
On March 15, fugitive tycoon Chen You-hao held a press conference from Los Angeles, during which he produced evidence that he said proved that Chen Shui-bian had accepted more funds from him than he had earlier admitted. These funds, while not illegal, are embarrassing because Chen You-hao is now a wanted criminal, although he was not when he made the donation.
As proof, he said that he visited first lady Wu Shu-chen with DPP legislator Shen Fu-hsiung, a meeting that Wu had strongly denied. This become a large issue when Shen suddenly disappeared. After two days on March 17, Shen reappeared and stated that he did remember introducing Chen to Wu, that he had mentioned this to DPP party officials, and not being believed he thought that it was best to disappear until the election. Finding that this caused more questions than it resolved, he reappeared and stated that he thought that the most likely explanation was that Wu Shuchen had simply forgotten the meeting. He also said that the election should not depend on this one incident, a position that the opposition agreed with.
Lee Yuan-tseh, widely credited for Chen's upset victory in 2000, issued a written statement on March 17 endorsing the Pan-Green candidates: "Four years ago, I endorsed Chen Shui-bian. Four years has elapsed, and I must admit in terms of the ability to run the country, the DPP has a lot of room to improve. But in terms of ideals and momentum to carry out reforms, the DPP is still the better choice." In response, Lien Chan when asked about Lee's endorsement remarked in English, "So what?"
The Shooting : On March 19 2004, President Chen Shui-bian and Vice-President Annette Lu were both shot while campaigning in Tainan. They were travelling in an open convertible jeep in the presidential motorcade. One bullet struck Chen's stomach and was later found in his clothes; Chen received a flesh wound 8 cm long and 2 cm deep (four inches long, an inch wide, and an inch deep). Another bullet grazed Lu's knee and was found in the jeep. At first both believed that they had been hit by firecrackers, which are common in Taiwanese political activities; the first sign of something more serious was when Chen noticed that he was bleeding from the stomach and that there was a bullet hole in the window.
Their injuries were not life-threatening, and both Chen and Lu were released from Chi-Mei Hospital on the same day without losing consciousness or having surgery. Nevertheless, the attack provoked shock and unease on Taiwan, where political violence of this kind is unknown in recent times.
Chen released a video in which he urged calm and indicated that neither his health nor the security of Taiwan were under threat. Within hours, police announced they were certain that the crime was not political, and that mainland China was not involved. On Internet chat rooms and talk radio, some Pan-Blue supporters theorized that the incident was faked in order for Chen to gain sympathy votes. These speculations were, however, considered highly offensive by Pan-Green supporters, and were not condoned by the Pan-Blue leadership until after Chen won the election.
Both Chen and Lien's election campaigns were suspended, but the next day's election was not postponed, as Taiwanese law only allows for suspension of election upon the death of a candidate. Lien Chan and Wang Jyng-ping tried to visit Chen on the night of the incident, but were unable to see the president because he was resting. Chen Shui-bian appeared publicly the next day when he voted.
The official campaigning period was from 07:00 to 22:00 every day from February 21, 2004 to March 19, 2004, though campaign activities had gone on for over a year. Taiwanese law forbids reports of polls in the last ten days of campaigning and any campaigning on the day of the election. Ballots in Taiwan are counted by hand with results generally available within two hours of the end of the election.
Because of Pan-Blue's strategy of having people cast no ballot in the referendum, one major controversy was the format of the election, specifically as whether the referendum questions would be on the same or different ballots as the Presidency. After much debate the CEC decided that there would be a U shaped line in which people would first cast a ballot for President and then cast a separate ballot for each of the two questions. Voters who choose not to cast a referendum ballot could exit the line at the base of the U. Near the end of the campaign, the CEC issued a number of conflicting and constantly changing directives as to what would constitute a valid ballot.
After all 13,749 polling places had reported, Lien appeared before his campaign headquarters and demanded a recount calling the vote "unfair". He demanded a full inquiry into the apparent assassination attempt on Chen that had happened the day before, characterizing it as surrounded by "clouds of suspicion," seeming to fuel theories that it had been staged to get Chen re-elected.
On the next day, the KMT filed several lawsuits in major cities and Lien led 20,000 supporters in a march to the presidential office and staged an all night sit-in. These first set of lawsuits where thrown out because they were filed before a winner had been officially declared. Sit-ins were held in front a courthouses across Taiwan, with some protests becoming violent. The High Court ordered all ballot boxes be sealed, per Lien's demand. Protestors continued to camp on Ketagelan Boulevard outside the presidential office, despite Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's calls on Sunday night to have people return to work. On Monday morning, hundreds still remained, with numbers swelling to about 10,000 in the evening. The crowds still remained until one week later, demanding a recount and an international investigation into the apparent assassination attempt.
A supporter of defeated presidential contender Lien Chan demonstrates in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei, March 21, 2004.
On March 23, President Chen issued three directives to quell the contested results:
- The Legislative Yuan should revise election laws to allow automatic recount if the margin of victory is less than 1% of the votes. The law, if passed, retroactively applies to the 2004 elections
- If the law is passed, the President agrees to have the recount as soon as possible and expects Lien to acknowledge the results from the recount.
- Since the President has shown goodwill in accepting Pan-Blue coalition's demand for a recount, the demonstrators in front of the Presidential Mansion should disperse and all protests be stopped.
The Legislature Yuan convened on March 26 to discuss the passage of the law, but the measure was not put to a vote. The Pan-Blue coalition demanded a recount by an executive order, bypassing the legislature; Chen claimed he had no such right, and that doing so would amount to declaring martial law.
Chen's controversial victory was officially confirmed by the Central Election Commission on March 26, 2004. Pan-Blue protestors stormed and hurled eggs at the CEC in response.
On March 27, 500,000 protestors massed in front of the presidential office (where protestors had remained all week). Lien told the crowd that he had counted more than 1,000 election irregularities (though he was not specific), but urged to crowd to disperse, promising more protests in the future if their demands were not met. Chen agreed to set up an independent task force to investigate the shooting and invited Henry Lee to be its leader.
At daybreak on March 28, 1000 riot police moved into Ketagelan Boulevard to forcibly remove the last 200 protestors remaining. Another protest was held on the following Saturday, April 3, in which 15,000 people attended. The protest was deemed illegal and violently broken up by police.
On March 29, Chen and Lu signed letters promising not to contest the newly re-filed Pan-Blue petition for a recount, bypassing a lengthy judicial inquiry. On April 2, the High Court gave both sides 5 days to agree on a means to conduct the recount. Meanwhile, the Pan-Blue Coalition dropped its demand for another round of voting by disenfranchised members of the military and the police. By April 7, an procedural agreement for the recount still had not been reached and Pan-Blue held another rally the following Saturday, this time more than 100,000 strong. This protest was peaceful for most of the day, but several hundred demonstrators tried to storm the president's office in the evening. Police fired water cannons to push back the protesters.
A second lawsuit, originally filed on April 5 and refiled on April 7, charged that the Central Election Commission improperly allowed the presidential election to occur concurrently with the referendum and failed to postpone it after the apparent assassination attempt. This lawsuit sought to annul the results of the election.
A judicial recount under the jurisdiction of a special panel of the High Court began on May 10 and ended on May 18. It was conducted by about 460 teams situated in 21 courthouses across the Taiwan area. Each team was comprised of seven members - one judge, two members each from the district court and the local government election authorities, and two witnesses each representing the plaintiff (pan-blue alliance) and the defendant (pan-green alliance). Any disputed votes were sent to High Court in Taipei for verification.
On November 4, The Taiwan High Court decided not to nullify the March 20 presidential election, rejecting the opposition's claims the vote was marred by fraud and a shooting that injured President Chen Shui-bian one day before his victory by a razor-thin margin.