Sun, Oct 13, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Soong, Ma and the passing of power

By Jerome Keating

The battle between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) shows little sign of letting up. On the contrary, it is escalating; and Ma, not Wang, is the one driving that escalation.

In addition to pressing the courts for Wang’s dismissal as legislative speaker, by consistently canceling and changing the status and venue of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) meetings, Ma is not only deliberately shutting Wang out of party affairs, he is also putting party members who may be sympathetic to Wang on notice. Any show of loyalty or support for Wang or even calls for courtroom justice will be damaging to their careers.

Damaging, that is, as long as Ma is president and party chairman. It is this limited timeframe that Ma seems to forget. He should pay more attention to the mercurial rise and fall of People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) because the muse of politics plays no long-term favorites and can be merciless.

Soong “almost was Taiwan’s king.” He is a man who won followers on both sides of the aisle. His full and accurate biography, complete with all its ups and downs, shouts to be written.

It would be more than the biography of a man who just missed having eight years of the presidency to cap his career; it would be the biography of a man who with Machiavellian tenacity had struggled and risen through tumultuous times where backroom deals and power manipulations were much more formidable.

Included would have to be the changing political interplay of waishengren (外省人, recent arrivals from China) and benshengren (本省人), those who arrived in Taiwan before 1945) and the need to do an about-face in relations between Taiwan and China. It could be a biography much more engrossing than that of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) because it would contain the gripping semi-tragic interplay of fate, timing and character.

Thus far in Taiwan, however, Lee is the only man who consistently played cards with Dame Politic and came out ahead in both survival and notable, tangible contributions to Taiwan.

As Ma would later emulate, in his early days, Soong gained prominence by being secretary to then-premier Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). His career grew in stature in the pivotal days of the Kaohsiung Incident, where Soong as director of the Government Information Office defended the administration’s position against world opinion on human rights.

Soong’s star continued to rise with his impassioned, patriotic speech in the dark moments of the Republic of China (ROC) when then-US president James Carter moved the US embassy to Beijing.

With another impassioned speech, Soong would guarantee that Lee would succeed Chiang Ching-kuo in the power struggles following Chiang’s death. Unfortunately, Lee would later cut Soong’s power base by eliminating the position of provincial governor, a position that Soong had won by a landslide vote. Lee would also deny Soong the right to be premier.

When further denied the opportunity to represent the KMT in the 2000 presidential election, Soong ran as an independent. He far outshone the KMT candidate, then-vice president Lien Chan (連戰) and would have won if not for political intrigue and accusations over the Chung Hsin Bills Finance Corp scandal involving KMT money. Soong then formed the PFP, which proved formidable for a while. So, while Soong came so far and survived financially, he had not yet made a lasting, recognizable contribution to Taiwan’s future.

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