News that People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) might make another run for the presidency could be another bombshell for the embattled Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), already reeling from the rise of Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) as the presumptive candidate for January’s presidential election.
Soong has said he would base his decision on whether the KMT would back Hung’s presidential nomination, suggesting that he considers himself a credible challenger among pan-blue camp supporters against Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
Such an inference is not without reasons. Several recent opinion polls show Soong still gets strong enough numbers and favorable ratings.
A poll conducted on June 25 and June 26 by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research found that 46.4 percent of respondents said the KMT and the PFP should field Soong as the joint candidate of the pan-blue camp, against 27.8 percent favoring Hung. Pitted against Tsai, Hung trailed by 19.9 percentage points, while Soong trailed by only 9.7 percentage points. In a three-way race between Tsai, Hung and Soong, 37.1 percent said they would vote for Tsai, 24.3 percent for Soong and 20.5 percent for Hung.
In a poll by the Cross-Strait Policy Association earlier last month and one by the DPP last week, Soong also got more than 20 percent support in a Tsai-Hung-Soong race.
According to the DPP’s survey, Tsai’s support decreased from 53 percent to 48.6 percent if the KMT and the PFP jointly nominated Soong. This suggests that Soong would be able to pick up support among pan-blue supporters who disapprove of Hung’s deep-blue ideology and swing voters who would vote for Tsai because there is no other alternative.
While Soong might pull some votes away from Tsai, his participation in the race would more likely benefit Tsai, partly because Soong is not an appealing candidate for traditional DPP voters.
If Soong decides to run, it would be the 73-year-old’s third presidential bid. He also ran for vice president on the KMT ticket in 2004.
In the 2000 presidential election, Soong, running as an independent, narrowly lost to the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) with 39.3 percent of the vote by a margin of just over 2.5 percentage points, while then-vice president Lien Chan (連戰), the KMT candidate, garnered 23.1 percent. In 2012, Soong’s PFP ticket suffered an embarrassing defeat by receiving just 2.76 percent of the vote, while President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was re-elected with 51.6 percent of the vote against Tsai’s 45.63 percent.
The public’s support for Soong is not stable and voters might not shift their support to Soong if the so-called “dump-save” effect occurs. Although Soong is not as popular as he was in the early 2000s, the seven years of incompetent governance by the Ma administration has helped revive the public’s memory of Soong’s reputation for effective administration when he was Taiwan provincial governor. Meanwhile, Hung’s push for unification with China made Soong’s proposal for steady development of cross-strait relations in consideration of the will of the Taiwanese more noticeable.
Soong stands a good chance of regaining his political influence in politics if he throws his hat into the ring, regardless of the actual result of the election.