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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Taiwan fears over poll divide
By Caroline Gluck
in Taipei

After a week of high political drama and tensions in Taiwan, many Taiwanese are now pondering the long-term fall out from its political crisis.

Religious leaders have held special prayer meetings calling for peace and national unity.

Church prayers in Taiwan
There are calls for unity and understanding
"We need to let people cool down. Maybe they can express their emotion, but it should not be prolonged for such a time as it influences the social order and economic development," said Rev William Lo of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, which has been closely linked to Taiwan's independence movement.

Another pastor, Rev Lu Cheng Fa, had strong words for the behaviour of the political parties.

"They try to create ethnic problems", he told his congregation, warning that society was now deeply divided.

The demonstrations right now are causing people to challenge, to confront each other. It's damaging our society
Alen Wei
"I have been involved in so many social movements, but I never see so much hatred in these people", he said, referring to protestors on the streets who have denounced President Chen Shui-bian's re-election as unfair and accused him of staging his own shooting one day before the poll.

Young Taiwanese are also worried. Alen Wei, from National Chengchi University, is one of the organisers of a signature campaign which will be handed in to the heads of both political camps.

"The biggest problem is that most of the political parties only think about their own good, their own benefit, not what people want. The demonstrations right now are causing people to challenge, to confront each other. It's damaging our society.

"Confrontation is getting bigger and bigger. We have to solve this serious issue," he said.


There are signs that steps are finally underway to do just that.

Opposition leaders Lien Chan and James Soong are refilling a legal petition at the High Court, calling for a recount - a move President Chen says he backs. And talks are also taking place to try and pave the way for a meeting between President Chen and his rivals.

But the opposition leaders are not only fighting for a recount - they are also fighting for their political lives.

For Mr Lien - who lost to Mr Chen in the 2000 presidential race - a second defeat is likely to spell the end for his leadership, and a big shake-up of his Kuomintang (KMT) party, perhaps allowing a generation of young leaders to come to the fore.

The future of his running mate, James Soong and his People First Party - formed after he split from the KMT - could be equally uncertain. Many in the party are "mainlanders" - ethnic Chinese who fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 - and it has been described as the most pro-China party in Taiwan.

It wont look good in the history books... but I still believe in Taiwan's democracy
Professor Chiou Chwei-liang
"Most people see themselves now as Taiwanese, and they think the DPP is the party of Taiwan," said Hsu Yung-ming, professor at the Sun Yat-sen Institute for Social Sciences and philosophy at Academia Sinica.

"As for the (KMT and PFP), people doubt their loyalty towards Taiwan. If they cannot change that perception, I don't think they can win the next election. And the legal challenge could damage their chances during the December legislative elections", he said.

But assuming President Chen's victory is re-confirmed after a recount, his next four year term in office may be just as difficult as the past four years - if the opposition parties continue to have a majority in the legislature.

"He could well face the same problems he faced last time", says Emile Sheng, professor of political science at Soochow University. "His legitimacy is not much higher."

Many believe the conflict will have long-lasting results.

"Social trust has been completely destroyed during this period", says Shih Chih Yu, professor of political science at National Taiwan University. "And I don't think any political negotiations by the two sides can provide any resolution."

Not everyone is as pessimistic.

Professor Chiou Chwei-liang, of Tamkang University, and a presidential advisor on national policy - admitted that the post election fall-out had tarnished Taiwan's image.

But says the protests and wrangles demonstrate that Taiwan's democratic framework is robust.

"It wont look good in the history books. Both sides need to do some soul searching, and find again some common ground.

"But I still believe in Taiwan's democracy; and most people still believe in Taiwan democracy", he said.

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