The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) faithful would have been delighted that People First Party Chairman (PFP) James Soong (宋楚瑜) came close to announcing his candidature for Taipei mayor this week. Like a rat in a Skinner box, Soong is pressing fiendishly at the bar in his twilight years, desperate for a reward. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) must ensure it runs the only other pan-blue camp candidate for it to survive a split vote.
The DPP faithful would also have been heartened by the Taiwan Solidarity Union pick, broadcaster Clara Chou (周玉蔻), who began her tilt for mayor with a comment of utter stupidity likening KMT Chairman and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to Osama bin Laden. Her campaign is doomed.
But then the DPP let its faithful down with a bizarre display of its own: the party's deadline for candidate registration passing without valid applications -- a poor show, indeed.
Former DPP legislator Shen Fu-hsiung (沈富雄) had been the only vocal contender. But he would have been an exceptionally poor prospect and his withdrawal from the race is sensible. Vanity, flaky behavior and disconnectedness with voters served to doom his legislative bid for the southern Taipei City electorate in 2004. Shen's separation from reality is such that he thought he could be mayor after failing to win a measly 6 percent of the vote for a seat.
An unexpected, last-minute push by former Taipei County commissioner You Ching (尤清) resulted in a farce: not the flavor of the month in the DPP, his documents were judged to be incomplete. Enter Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), who this week talked shop with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun. If the former premier can stop pussy-footing around and announce his bid, the party's prospects would be much brighter.
Hsieh's record as Kaohsiung mayor, while uneven, is not to be underestimated. The problem with Hsieh is that he is tainted by his unremarkable performance as premier and his administrative links to the corruption that spawned the Kaohsiung labor riot. Even more than this, he is tiring of the party that got him where he is. By hinting at taking a direction away from the DPP, he threatens to follow in the tradition of disaffected, egomaniacal party chairmen like Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) and Shih Ming-teh (施明德).
The only other notable feature of the race so far is that the pan-blue camp has been much more energetic in culling candidates. The first to go were the odious former KMT spokesman Alex Tsai (蔡正元) and KMT Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴). Chiang discovered that being the son and grandson of dictators -- and changing your name to remind us of it -- doesn't play very well in 2006, even in the KMT.
Ma's preferred successor, former deputy Taipei mayor Yeh Chin-chuan (葉金川), would be a safe if dull choice for the party, given that nobody knows what Yeh's vision is. In all likelihood he doesn't have one, but his experience in City Hall stands him in good stead with a conservative electorate.
Then there's former Environmental Protection Administration head Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) and KMT Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中). The pragmatic Hau has started well in the polls, though it remains to be seen if his underachieving career can translate into substantive policy ideas for the nation's most powerful city. Ting, on the other hand, has a mongrel streak that has served him well in local politics, but his appeal to a wider public has always been limited.