Fri, Dec 02, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Will James Soong spoil Ma’s bid for re-election?

By Chin Heng-wei 金恒煒

Several days ago Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative candidate Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said a vote for People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) was a vote for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) campaign is clearly worried and regards Soong’s candidacy as dangerous.

Soong is marketing himself as being above the pan-blue/pan-green divide, but in reality his support comes mostly from pan-blue voters, something he is well aware of and working to exploit to the full. Whereas the KMT is abandoning its traditional base, Soong is digging deep into the foundations of pan-blue support. It is against this background that the fight within the pan-blue camp rages.

Soong registered as a presidential candidate on Thursday morning last week. In the afternoon, Ma went to the Touliao Mausoleum, where former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) is buried, to “report to Chiang.”

This was a transparent ploy to appeal to pan-blue supporters, to highlight that it is Ma who subscribes to KMT orthodoxy and not Soong. He then had an interview with the BBC, in which he played the unification card. It goes without saying that Soong is sidling up to the deep-blues.

If one is to believe the PFP, Soong appeals to moderate or light blue and green voters, and so he needs to tread carefully when discussing unification and independence. Why is it so difficult for Ma to convince people to give him a second crack of the whip? Incompetence is one, but the main reason is most people reject the idea of eventual unification.

Numerous opinion polls indicate that Ma’s support started to dip after Oct. 17, when he announced a possible peace accord with China. He promptly corrected himself, but the damage was already done. Soong, as cunning as ever, used this moment to show his pro-unification colors, gunning for the pan-blue vote.

That Soong is now in a strong position is not so much because of his own ability as Ma’s incompetence. After four years of Ma, the public has had enough. Soong now has the chance to draw his sword once more, but whether he is able to inflict a mortal wound on Ma depends on how much vitriol and personal attacks the pan-blue pro-unification media subject him to.

How many votes can Soong get? Nobody in their right mind would bet on the outcome, but the point is not how many of Ma’s votes he can steal: He might not damage Ma’s election prospects, but his only concern is to be able to compete against Ma. The Jan. 14 presidential election will offer a standard by which to measure his success in this. It is often said it is the journey, not the arriving, that matters, and so it is with Soong’s election bid.

Given that Soong’s votes will basically come from pan-blue supporters, it makes sense for him to attack Ma. Based on press reports, Soong is laying into Ma 80 percent of the time and Tsai only 20 percent, in tune with his election strategy. Comparing his own strong record as former Taiwan governor with Ma’s poor performance as president adds weight to Tsai’s own criticisms of Ma, and consolidates the general impression of Ma’s shortcomings. This is far more effective than taking Tsai on.

Soong’s entrance has also drawn the brunt of attacks from the pan-blue press away from Tsai and onto Soong, particularly in the case of the political call-in programs. The pan-blue camp seems to be making an art form out of infighting.

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