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Sat, Jan 08, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Aides say Soong stronger after his financial scandal

ON THE BALLOT Independent presidential candidate James Soong calculates that for each name gathered on his signature drive, he can expect three votes in the March election. Critics say this is nonsense

By Lauren Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

James Soong's (宋楚瑜) presidential campaign is back on track and stronger than ever, at least according to the Soong camp.

Soong completed a 45-day signature drive on Thursday by handing in more than a million names to election officials, enabling his name to be placed on the March ballot.

The signature drive was launched Nov. 26, but was sidetracked by a scandal that threatened to destroy Soong's presidential aspirations.

Soong aides now say that allegations of financial impropriety that began on Dec. 9, when KMT legislator Yang Chi-hsiung (楊吉雄) accused Soong and his family of involvement in irregular money transactions have backfired.

While the allegations put Soong's clean-cut image to the severest of tests, his campaign has emerged stronger and more focussed and a temporary faltering of support has turned into strong momentum.

Campaign officials admitted that the financial dealings surrounding the accounts of Soong's son, Soong Chen-yuan (宋鎮遠), and his sister-in-law Chen Pi-yun (陳碧雲), seriously affected the pace of collecting signatures.

"After the allegations were made by Yang, we were forced to stop our regular campaign activities -- of course, including the ongoing signature drive -- for almost two weeks,'' said Lee Horng-yuan (李鴻源), a chief policy advisor for Soong.

Things remained at a standstill until what Soong's camp has called a "cross-examination-style" conference summoned by New Party legislator Hsieh Chi-ta (謝啟大) on Dec. 28 following an inquiry by Hsieh into Soong's finances.

"After Hsieh stepped into the investigation, the signature forms came rolling in,'' Soong's campaign manager, Wu Rong-ming (吳容明), said.

"Using the excuse of inquiring about (Soong's) expenditures, the KMT wanted to repress both our campaign fundraising and the number of signatures we could gather,'' Wu said.

However, Soong officials said that the tremendous pressure from high-ranking KMT officials had, in fact, worked to the advantage of Soong.

"Contrary to what the KMT had expected, the result was a coalescence of Soong's core voters,'' Lee said.

Analysts agree that the crisis in voter confidence produced by the scandal led to vast numbers of signatures for Soong in the final push before the deadline.

Soong officials also said that most of the signature forms had come from northern Taiwan -- with nearly 600,000 from Taipei City.

But apart from individual supporters, the biggest source of signatures still had to rely on organizational mobilization, built during Soong's tenure as provincial governor from 1993 to 1998.

Those channels, according to Soong officials, include teachers, transport workers (under the former provincial administration) and members of local farmers' associations.

Based on the results of the signature drive, Soong's camp has also developed what they are calling a "signature drive theory" -- which states that each signature can, more or less, result in three votes on election day.

Officials said the theory was based mainly on the precedent set during the last presidential election.

In the first-ever direct presidential election in Taiwan in 1996, independent candidate Lin Yang-kang (林洋港) obtained 630,000 signatures, and later received 1.6 million votes; independent contender Chen Li-an (陳履安), collected 380,000 names and garnered 1.07 million ballots.

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