Wed, Jul 26, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Soong remains a canny operator

Rumors have surfaced of a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) plot to "destroy" People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) by encouraging him to run in the Taipei mayoral elections. The aim is the reabsorption of the PFP and the neutralizing of a pan-blue split in the 2008 presidential elections. If Soong contests the Taipei mayorship, a poor performance would destroy his political credibility. If he were to go all out and perform well, this would probably deny victory to the KMT's candidate Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌). Soong would be blamed for a pan-blue defeat, and his career destroyed. His only chance is to win the mayorship, otherwise it would be the end of his career and the end of many years of division within the pan-blue camp.

KMT and PFP insiders have not denied these rumors -- a clear indication of the flimsy nature of the pan-blue coalition, which has never been able to rise above the struggle for political benefit and election rivalry. Even if the Taipei mayoral election does not lead to the disintegration of the pan-blue camp, the impact of the new single-member district system to be adopted in the next legislative elections certainly will.

Soong is an experienced and cunning politician with broad campaign experience, having stood for the posts of provincial governor, president and vice president. Can the antics of a few grassroots KMT politicians lure him into a trap? Soong has certainly expressed his interest in joining the Taipei mayoral race. And in the campaign to recall the president, he showed considerable acuity and displayed his ability to mobilize the public. But since then, he has adopted a wait-and-see attitude. This shows that Soong is still cautiously feeling out the situation and biding his time.

Soong certainly has ambitions for higher office. However, it would be foolish to ignore his political judgment. Those who believe that he can be entrapped by low-level political shenanigans are underestimating him. If Soong decides to throw his hat into the ring, then this would be based on his careful consideration and his party's interests. Soong's current reticence is probably intended to maintain his popularity among pan-blue supporters, or is in preparation for using his China trip in September to build momentum ahead of the election. Regardless, no one can ignore Soong's role in the Taipei mayoral election. It is still too early to say whether his decision will help him start afresh or end his political career.

Though nobody can completely rule out the existence of a plot to eliminate Soong from the nation's political scene, the idea smacks of conspiracy theory and is unworthy of serious consideration. Although the Taipei mayoral election is a secondary government election, it could build momentum for a victory in the 2008 presidential elections. The election is also a chance for the DPP to revive its fortunes after having been tarnished by scandals involving the first family. Both the KMT and DPP will be paying close attention to Soong's next move. However, conspiracy theories aimed at manipulating his choice of whether he contests the mayoral election are likely to backfire, and voters will only have contempt for such schemes.

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