In any democracy, electoral disputes should be settled through the judicial process and all parties should accept the court's verdict in the end. Regretfully, there is usually political maneuverings to bypass the legal mechanism, which has disastrous consequences for democracy. The controversy over Taiwan's presidential election is an illustration of this point.
The opposition's explicit attempts to use judicial means to achieve political ends demonstrated not only the reluctant acceptance of the election results by the pan-blue camp, but also a move by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) to sacrifice the nation's hard-won democracy in favor of their political ambition.
While encouraging their hardcore supporters to take to the streets, Lien and Soong have made efforts to draw international attention, and especially the US' assistance, to extend the battleground. In this regard, the role of the US deserves special attention given the fact that the George W. Bush administration has taken a hands-off approach to the election so far. In its earlier response to the election results, the State Department addressed its con-gratulations to "the people of Taiwan," not to President Chen Shui-bian (
Later the US emphasized that it would not send a congratulatory letter to the winner of the election until all of the electoral disputes launched by Lien have been resolved.
The Bush administration's adoption of the wait-and-see approach toward Taiwan's post-election political change displayed a lack of respect to Chen as well as little understanding of Taiwan's election law.
According to the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Election and Recall Law(總統副總統選舉罷免法), the Central Election Commission (CEC) has to certify the results of the election and the names of the president-elect and the vice-president-elect. The pan-blue camp's demand for a recount should not influence the commission's schedule to make its official announcement by today.
The final ruling of the Supreme Court on the election lawsuit would not have any influence on the CEC's certification. Since the lawsuit might drag on for as long as six months, Chen will be inaugurated and fulfill his duty as the 12th president of Taiwan. Chen will be discharged of his capacity as president only if the court concludes that Lien had won. During this period, Chen is procedurally the president. The challenges neither change the president-elect's status nor the timeline for his taking office. Hence, there is no justifiable reason not to recognize his presidency.
Whether or not Washington's ambiguous reaction to the election is being manipulated by the China or the pan-blue camp remains unknown, but such a vague gesture helps to reinforce the pan-blue camp's calls to invalidate the election. Both Lien and Soong have been telling their supporters that the US has not sent a message to Chen because it also has doubts about the legitimacy of the results. Is this the consequence of the US' non-involvement policy?
Moreover, Washington's delay in congratulating Chen will prolong the dispute and could jeopardize the very progress Taiwan has made in becoming a stable liberal democracy. If the US maintains this policy, it risks sending the wrong message to Taiwan and, potentially, to Bei-jing, that Washington does not recognize Chen's legitimacy. This would encourage both the pan-blue camp and the PRC government to sabotage Chen.
The US should send a congratulatory letter to Chen as soon as the commission certifies him to be the elected president. Do not let political considerations wound Taiwan's young democracy.
Liu Kuan-teh is a Taipei-based political commentator.
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