Tue, Oct 17, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Soong is Ma's worst nightmare

However tedious Taiwan's political scene has become recently, the battle for Taipei mayor promises to be an exception now that People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) is set to enter the fray.

Following hot on the heels of eccentric independent Legislator Li Ao (李敖), who announced his candidacy on Sunday and stumped up the required NT$2,000,000 (US$60,350) deposit; Soong is widely expected to join Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), the Taiwan Solidarity Union's (TSU) Clara Chou (周玉蔻) and the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) by throwing his hat into the ring later today.

While rumors of Soong's intention to run have long been circulating, he has never confirmed them. Instead he has been busy touring Taipei over the last few months on so-called "inspection tours" to get the lowdown on issues that concern residents in the city's 12 districts.

Soong has also used former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh's (施明德) campaign to depose the president to full effect, riding on its coattails to raise his profile and boost his popularity among the pan-blue camp's more diehard supporters, while at the same time making incumbent mayor and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) look like a political novice.

Soong's decision to run is more bad news for Ma, because it puts Soong in direct competition with Hau and could split the pan-blue vote, so it is likely to put pressure on the KMT and PFP to come to some sort of agreement in order to avoid what would be an embarrassing defeat.

But as PFP party caucus whip Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) has pointed out, PFP candidates have always stood down for the KMT in the past, so Soong is unlikely to step aside this time without major concessions from the KMT, concessions that Ma will be reluctant to give, as any deal has the potential to damage his chairmanship and his aim of standing for the presidency in 2008.

Ma is also unlikely to drop Hau, as he was chosen using the KMT's new "democratic" primary system and Ma has personally endorsed his candidacy. Ma blasted the DPP for choosing Hsieh without the use of a proper selection process, so for Ma to drop Hau would be another hole in his already perforated armor of credibility.

But between Soong and Hau, it is the son of former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) who is the weaker, as he is still -- unfairly -- reviled among some elements of the pan-blue camp for his decision to work as Environmental Protection Administration chief under the DPP government.

Soong knows this and will use it to his advantage. Indeed, the KMT and PFP chiefs have already met to discuss the issue but to no avail.

With Li involved, at least we will be guaranteed that things will be eventful; the same goes for Chou, but realistically neither of them is likely to affect the overall result.

Soong's candidacy, if it happens, is great news for the DPP and the Hsieh camp, as two prominent pan-blue candidates would give Hsieh his best chance of winning this traditional KMT stronghold.

But with the pan-blue alliance loath to lose Taipei to the DPP like they did in 1994, when a New Party candidate and his KMT rival split the vote, we can expect the two parties to eventually thrash out some kind of deal.

And whatever kind of agreement the KMT and PFP come to -- if one is ever reached -- if it involves Hau or Soong stepping aside, then all Ma's talk of "high-class elections" and the "clean election pledge" policy he introduced last year will have gone out of the window, along with his lackluster efforts to reform the KMT and what little reputation he has left.

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