Suddenly, someone in the crowd, taking advantage of the noise and smoke, shot at the candidates. At least two rounds were fired from an unidentified weaponpossibly a homemade firearm. One penetrated the jeep's windshield. Chen didn't realize he had been hit and continued waving and calling to the crowd until blood started seeping through his gray windbreaker. His jeep screeched off to a hospital, where Chen declined a medical bed and walked to an isolated part of the emergency room. There, doctors applied 20 stitches and 12 sutures to a deep, 11-cm-long graze below Chen's navel. The President was impressively calmhis heart rate was a normal 84 beats per minute and blood pressure was 142/72 mm Hg. It was only a subsequent CAT scan that detected a bullet slug caught between his windbreaker and shirt. "If I hadn't turned my body around a bit," Chen told a doctor, "the bullet could have gone directly through me." (A bullet also grazed Vice President Lu's right knee.) Within six hours, the two were back in the capital, Taipei. Chen, who is known by the nickname "A-Bian," went on television to announce calmly, "A-Bian won't be knocked down by a bullet."
If you can consider a gunshot to the belly lucky, Chen seemed doubly fortunate in Tainan. His wound was minor, and the attack apparently clinched him the election by giving him a shot of sympathy, too. When the ballots were counted, the Chen–Lu tandem had squeaked in with only 50.1% of the votea margin of just 29,518 out of some 12.9 million votes tallied. Given the narrowness of Chen's victory, and the questions surrounding the attack on himwho was behind it and whythe rival electoral team of Lien Chan and James Soong challenged the result. "This election was unfair," Lien announced to thousands of cheering supporters as he refused to concede defeat. Many of his supporters had claimed that Chen staged the attack, and Lien raised his own doubts: "Until now we still haven't received a clear explanation of the shooting incident." He said he would petition the courts to invalidate the result and ask for a recount.
Choosing to ignore the controversy, Chen and Lu, who leaned heavily on a crutch, appeared before 10,000 jubilant supporters outside DPP election headquarters. "From now on," Chen said, "we must all embrace each other, creating a harmonious and unified new Taiwan." But six hours later, Lien and Soong led several thousand outraged loyalists to an indefinite sit-in outside the President's office.
The 2004 election has challenged the island's young democracy like no event before: first, with an attempted political assassination, then with a wafer-thin margin of victory, and now with protesters on the streets of Taipei. A recount, which seems likely, could take weeks and might trigger protracted legal wrangling. Even if the election result stands, the shared outrage of Chen's opponents could keep them together in oppositionrather than disintegrating in defeatblocking initiatives that Chen may have planned in advance, especially toward China. Chen is under pressure from Taiwan's business community to establish some sort of working relationship with Beijing. He had hoped that a stronger mandate would allow him to engage Beijing on his own termsindeed, in his victory speech, he asked China to "accept the democratic decision of the Taiwanese people." But that call by Chen immediately rang hollow not only with the mandarins across the Taiwan Strait but with roughly half his own people.
Hours after polling stations closed, China's leaders had yet to comment on Chen's re-election or Lien's challenge. China hates Chen, whom it considers a dangerous proponent of independence for what it regards as a renegade province. When he ran for the presidency four years ago, Beijing excoriated the former human-rights lawyer and ramped up its threats to invade Taiwan if unduly provoked. Sniping worked for Chen in that election campaign, too: Beijing's attacks helped him win a tight, three-person race. Since then, Chen has stoked up the pressure by insisting Taiwan is a sovereign nation and stressing the island's right to self-determination. (Two referendums Chen held on polling day last week were a similar jab: they asked voters whether Taiwan should boost its military preparedness if China does not renounce the right to use force against the island, and if Taipei should engage in talks with Beijing. In the end, less than half the electorate voted, rendering the referendums invalid, which Beijing did remark upon, gloatingly.) Chen's belief is that Taiwan must stand up for itself before the mainland gets overwhelmingly powerful on the world stage.
If his election victory is upheldand he manages to assuage his rivalsChen will have four more years to pursue that agenda. In Beijing, where top officials seldom refer to him by name or acknowledge his presidency, he's now likely to meet with greater distrust than evermany on the mainland will be tempted to assume that the shooting incident was merely a dirty trick of his. There are other reasons, too, for Beijing to be displeased with the election. The dramatic television pictures of protesters in the streets make Taiwan look divided. Yet the island has, in fact, undergone a major shift, with political opponents drawing closer together in their attitudes toward the mainland. Lien's opposition Kuomintang (KMT), allied with Soong's People First Party, wooed voters by promising stability for Taiwan's economy and a greater chance of dealing with Beijing productively. But to avoid a total rout, the pair were forced to follow Chen's lead into some significant U-turns in their own China policy. By the time people entered the polling booths on Saturday, Taiwan's entire political establishment had come to a near consensus on the island's essentialmake that existentialissue. Reunificationwhich Beijing insists upon, and which Taiwan reluctantly accepted for years, albeit as a distant inevitabilityis never going to be allowed if the voters of Taiwan and their elected leaders have any say in the matter. Taiwan isn't going the way of Hong Kong or Macau.