More than Staying in the Game: Can Soong Think Beyond Himself?

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Tuesday August 16, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

James Soong has not been treated kindly by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). True, he did not completely follow the party's procedures of hierarchy and privilege, but in the year 2000 if they had chosen him to be their presidential candidate, instead of the loser Lien Chan, he could have guaranteed them eight consecutive years of the presidency. Still, the KMT stuck with the loser, and as a result, Soong broke ranks and ran as an independent. Against those odds, he still almost won. That is water under the bridge. But now as the 2012 elections approach and the whispers of "Dump Ma to Save Taiwan" are growing louder even in the pan-blue camp, Soong has a new chance and needs to carefully assess his strategy and goals. Does he want to simply stay in the game? Does he want to be a player? Or does he want to do something good, not for the hollow shell of the Republic of China (ROC), but for Taiwan? The latter is possible, but is Soong up to it?

In 2012, Soong and his party, the People's First Party (PFP) face a quiet diminishing extinction like that of Taiwan's all but gone New Party (NP). This is not yet written in stone. But the good we are talking about above is beyond that, it is in leveling the political playing field that has long stymied Taiwan politics. Taiwan's Legislative Yuan has too long been dominated by a selfishly narrow-minded KMT; they received only 54 per cent of the vote and yet got 75 per cent of the seats. That is unfair representation. Moreover, during the past three and a half years with a KMT president and a KMT controlled Legislative Yuan, the country has still existed in a stagnant limbo. How could so little progress be made by the KMT when it had so much control? The inept Ma Ying-jeou who thinks that a country can be run by platitudes, photo-ops and press releases is certainly part of the reason. This needs to change and Soong can actually be a factor.

Last election, the PFP was again shut out by the KMT; it did not qualify for at-large legislative seats because the PFP allowed its candidates to be co-nominated by the KMT; any votes they got did not qualify for the percentage rules. The PFP has not made that mistake this time. This time it has the minimum 10 candidates running for seats; thus for the PFP to at least get at-large legislative seats it must get 5 per cent or more of party votes in the upcoming election. Soong then has four choices, the first would be to not run but only be the spiritual father of the party. He has had that role and it will not generate many votes. Lee Teng-hui plays such a role for the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) but Lee has the prestige of having been president for 12 years. Soong needs a position if he is to help his party.

Soong could run for President, but any chance of his winning is not in the cards even if some polls show him gaining in popularity. The presidency will be won by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or the KMT. Soong could possibly gain overall votes to help his party past the 5 per cent threshold but a defeat in running for President as he had in recently running for Mayor of Taipei would be disastrous.

Running in a specific legislative district where Soong is popular is another possibility, but that would mean campaigning heavily and primarily in that district and it still does not rule out the possibility that he could be defeated.

No, strange as it may seem, Soong's best chance is to run as the number one position in his party's at-large legislative seats. Running at-large would give him the ability to freely campaign across the whole island. His message could be simple and direct while gaining votes for both his party and its respective candidates in the legislative districts. He could contend, "The country needs my voice. If I am in the Legislative Yuan, I and hopefully other PFP legislators can contribute in working with and fashioning policy with whatever party needs a majority. Help my party and its candidates get past the five per cent hurdle so that I will have an active platform for the next four years. If clowns like Chiu Yi can be elected as at-large legislators, a man of my caliber should all the more be in the Legislative Yuan."

For those with a memory, Li Ao (now running for the PFP in a district seat) once ran as an independent and won a legislative seat back when districts had multiple legislators. Li Ao had an even simpler message and/or platform. "If you want someone to go in the Legislative Yuan and shake it up, I am your man." Soong should know by now that the KMT will never bargain fairly with him. If he sincerely wants to help Taiwan and not just stay in the game for face, he could present a palatable platform for Taiwan and break the stagnation of the KMT's majority rule in the Legislative Yuan. Strange things have happened in Taiwan's politics. Is James Soong up to it?