Kaohsiung City Mayor and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) heavyweight Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) once said Li Ao (
Hsieh, who went head to head with Li during the referendum debates in March, commented at the time that although dangerous items and weapons had been prohibited from debate premises, Li's mouth was in fact the most "dangerous item" of all.
While Li's reputation as a dissenting scholar and outspoken critic of the government is firmly established, it is less clear how popular his views are with voters. When Li ran for president in 2000, he managed to garner just 0.13 percent of the vote. If nothing else, his race for a legislative seat in the hotly contested Taipei City southern district will be an indication of how well his criticism resonates with his constituency.
It comes as no surprise that Li is running as an independent, having always insisted on his individuality. Even when Li ran for president on the New Party ticket, he refused to join the party. But despite his maverick status, Li poses a formidable threat to his opponents, particularly those whose success could depend on how many votes Li manages to siphon from each political party's voter base.
"His affect on the vote is not just limited to the pan-blue camp -- even someone like [DPP legislator] Shen Fu-hsiung [沈富雄] could be affected," said People First Party legislator and candidate in the southern district Pang Chien-kuo (龐建國), pointing out that both were seen as outspoken in their criticism of the government.
Despite his advocacy of reunification with China and the "one country two systems" formula, Li's opposition to the government actually began with his contributions to the tangwai democratic movement in Taiwan in the 1960s to 1980s. Li helped pro-independence political prisoner Peng Ming-min (彭明敏) escaped Taiwan in 1970.
Having served time in prison for his involvement with anti-government democratic activities, he once said that he was the only Mainlander ever to be jailed for the cause of Taiwan independence. Li was born in China and did not move to Taiwan until he was fourteen.
When Li was nominated as the New Party's presidential candidate in 2000, he said that running for president was not a political activity but an intellectual one. Elections allow for society's "best thinkers" to brainwash everyone and lead society in the correct direction toward democracy, he said. Li's participation in the upcoming legislative elections as an independent candidate is his gamble to be chosen as one of society's "best thinkers."