Thu, Aug 18, 2011 - Page 8 News List

More than staying in the game?

By Jerome Keating

People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) 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 if it had chosen him in 2000 to be its presidential candidate instead of the eventual loser, former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), he might have guaranteed them eight consecutive years as president. 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.

However, January’s election is approaching and Soong thus has a new chance. He needs to carefully assess his strategy and goals. Does he want to simply stay in the game? Does he want to be a player? 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 does Soong want it?

Next year, Soong and his party face a quiet, withering extinction like that of Taiwan’s all but gone New Party. This is not yet written in stone, but the good we are talking about is beyond that — it is in leveling the political playing field that has long stymied Taiwanese politics. The Legislative Yuan has too long been dominated by a selfishly narrow-minded KMT; it received only 52 percent of the popular vote, yet got 72 percent of the seats in the 2008 legislative election. That is unfair representation. Moreover, during the past three-and-a-half years with a KMT president and a KMT--controlled legislature, the country has still found itself in limbo. How could a party with so much control make so little progress? The inept Ma, who thinks a country can be run by platitudes, photo ops and press releases, has not been any help. This needs to change and Soong could be a factor in making that happen.

In the previous election, the PFP was again shut out by the KMT; it did not qualify for legislator-at-large seats because the PFP allowed its candidates to be co-nominated with the KMT; any votes the PFP received were not enough to meet the 5 percent threshold required to secure a legislator-at-large seat. It has not made that mistake this time. Soong has four choices — the first would be to not run, but remain the spiritual leader of the party. He has that role already, but it would not generate many votes. Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) plays such a role for the Taiwan Solidarity Union, 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 has little chance of winning 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 enough overall votes to help his party get past the 5 percent threshold, but a crushing defeat in running for president similar to that when he ran for Taipei mayor in 2006 would be disastrous.

Running in a specific legislative district where he 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 of defeat.

No, strange as it may seem, Soong’s best chance is to run as the No. 1 candidate on his party’s legislator-at-large roster. Running at-large would give him the ability to campaign freely across the whole country. His message could be simple and direct while attracting votes for both his party and its 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 could contribute by working with and fashioning policy with whatever party needs a majority. Help my party and its candidates get past the 5 percent hurdle so that I will have an active platform for the next four years. If clowns like [KMT Legislator] Chiu Yi (邱毅) can be elected as legislators-at-large, a man of my caliber should all the more be in the legislature.”

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