Taiwan court orders voting for Assembly

Election could complicate presidential transition


TAIPEI, Taiwan -- After enduring the most turbulent and hard-fought election campaign in Taiwan's short democratic history, Taiwan's voters may have to troop back to the polls to vote again.

In a controversial ruling that will complicate the political transition facing incoming President Chen Shui-bian, and perhaps inflame tensions with Beijing, Taiwan's top court has ordered new legislative elections because members of the National Assembly illegally extended their own terms in office.

The Council of Grand Justices ruled late Friday that a constitutional amendment passed by the Assembly in September to extend its term by 25 months was invalid because it was approved by secret ballot. The court ordered the legislature to end its term by May 19, the day before Chen takes office.

Unless overturned, or unless some political compromise is reached, the ruling could trigger a national legislative ballot May 6, two weeks before the new president is sworn in May 20. Chen is the first opposition figure to become head of state, having won by a narrow margin the hotly contested March 18 election to replace President Lee Teng-hui. Chen, Taipei's former mayor, collected less than 40 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

Under normal circumstances, Taiwan's political parties might be spoiling for a rematch. But the major political parties are emotionally and financially spent after the draining presidential campaign.

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