Taiwan opposition leader James Soong will join the race for the presidency after gathering enough signatures to qualify, a bid that may siphon pro-China votes away from incumbent Ma Ying-jeou.
Soong, chairman of the People First Party, and running mate Lin Ruey Shiung gathered nearly 100,000 more signatures than the 257,695, or 1.5 percent of the electorate, necessary to run in the January election, party spokesman Clarence Wu said today.
A Soong candidacy could benefit Tsai Ing-wen, 55, the Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman who opposes Ma’s proposal for a peace agreement with China. Soong, who has also advocated closer ties to the mainland, may appeal to voters who support reunification but have soured on Ma, said Liu Bih-rong, a professor of politics at Soochow University in Taipei.
“The people who vote for Ma and those who may vote for Soong are basically the same,” Liu said. “Ma has been criticized for being weak and lacking the ability to execute. Voters who are unhappy with Ma will vote for Soong.”
Soong, 69, formed the People First Party after losing an independent bid for president in 2000. In that race, he drew votes away from Lien Chan, the candidate of the ruling Kuomintang party, and Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party won the election.
Before Chen’s victory, the Kuomintang had governed Taiwan for more than 50 years after retreating to the island in 1949 following Chiang Kai-Shek’s defeat at the hands of Mao Zedong’s Communists. Soong is a former Kuomintang party secretary who once served as English translator for Chiang Ching-kuo, Kai-Shek’s son.
An Oct. 25 poll published in the Taipei-based China Times found that Ma would win a head-to-head race against Tsai, gathering 43.9 percent of the vote to her 38.4 percent. A Soong candidacy would narrow the gap slightly: Ma would garner 41.6 percent, Tsai would get 36.3 percent and Soong would capture 10.6 percent of the vote. The newspaper surveyed 1,023 adults from Oct. 19 to Oct. 23, and the poll had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
Ma, 61, returned the Kuomintang to power in 2008 after pledging direct flights to China, lifting investment restrictions by Taiwanese companies and allowing more Chinese visitors to travel to Taiwan.
Ma said last month that he hopes to sign a peace agreement with China within 10 years, provided there is domestic consensus and trust on both sides. Tsai says that although she’s willing to work with China, Taiwan’s future must be determined by its people and not the island’s cross-strait neighbor.
Soong, who was born in China’s Hunan Province, doesn’t oppose a peace treaty and wants the process to be transparent, People First Party spokesman Wu said.
“The reasons for running are more personal than political,” said Liao Da-chi, a professor of political science at Chungshan University in Kaohsiung. “It’s totally impossible for him to win, but he can leverage this to bargain.”