Fri, Jan 07, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Bring on the vote: Soong

RACE BEGINS Independent candidate James Soong has collected the required number of signatures -- and then some -- to qualify for the election

By Lauren Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Supporters of independent presidential candidate James Soong hand over more than 1,000 signature books to the Central Election Commission yesterday.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Independent candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) delivered on his campaign team's boasts yesterday as the deadline passed for registering in the March presidential election.

With less than an hour before the cut-off time, he and his team appeared at the Taipei branch of the Central Election Commission to hand in forms containing over a million signatures -- more than four times the required 224,000.

In so doing, Soong officially joined four other nominees, including the KMT's Lien Chan (3s戰), the DPP's Chen Shui-bian (3?糮?/CHINESE>), New Party stand-in Li Ao (李敖), and independent Hsu Hsin-liang (3信良).

Even though Lien, Chen and Li did not need to collect signatures, as their parties received more than 5 percent of the vote in previous elections, the KMT was not about to let Soong make too emphatic a point. KMT spokesman Huang Hwei-chen (黃輝珍) announced yesterday that the party had collected more than 5 million signatures in support of Lien.

The media spotlight certainly belonged to Soong yesterday, however, as campaign official Tsai Chung-hsiung (1/22鐘雄) confirmed that over 1.5 million signature forms had been counted, but due to delays in operational procedures, they were able to hand over only 1,068,888. The number, pronounced in Taiwanese, sounds like "good fortune" (?@路發).

Tsai said they thought the number of signature forms collected would eventually reach about 2 million if they kept counting.

"We deployed 20 trucks to deliver the signature documents, and used 17 machines to copy related papers. Some of our supporters even camped out overnight at campaign headquarters to assist with the operation,'' Tsai said.

Speaking in front of stacks of signature forms, both Soong and his running mate, Chang Chao-hsiung (張昭雄), yesterday expressed gratitude to their supporters.

"In addition to tears and perspiration, pressure and torment can also be found in those little boxes,'' Soong said.

To build on yesterday's momentum, the Soong camp has announced plans to hold two large-scale campaign rallies in Taipei and Kaohsiung.

"On Jan. 9, we will host a rally in Chungshan Soccer Stadium (???s足2y3?/CHINESE>), where we expect to draw over 100,000 supporters. Another in Kaohsiung is scheduled for Jan. 23,'' said Lee Horng-yuan (李鴻源), a Soong campaign official in charge of youth policy.

The signature event could not have come at a better time for the Soong camp, officials admitted. Morale has been low among the campaign team and their supporters ever since the financial scandal surrounding the accounts of Soong's relatives at the Chung Hsing Bills Finance Corp (???2憎?/CHINESE>) broke on Dec. 9 last year.

"Nevertheless, we endured heavy attacks from high-ranking KMT officials to reach our goal. The results of the signature drive will at least help to provide us with a scale for measuring Soong's popularity,'' said Wu Rong-ming (吳容明), Soong's campaign manager.

DPP New Wave faction leader Wu Nan-jen (吳?D??/CHINESE>) said that he would rather put more trust in opinion polls than in the outcome of the signature drive.

"The result of the signature drive, no matter how good it is for Soong, can only serve as a sign of how steady his support is, rather than how extensive it might be,'' Wu said.

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