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Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan’s James Soong: the perennial candidate ... and loser

The former Kuomintang member has run in most presidential elections since 2000

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 January, 2016, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 January, 2016, 8:43pm

When James Soong Chu-yu announced last year he was going to run for the Taiwanese presidency, some bigwigs at the beleaguered Kuomintang might have lamented: Oh, come on, not again.

That’s because the participation of the 73-year-old once-popular KMT governor and present chairman of the small opposition People First Party has a history of sabotaging the century-old party by splitting the vote of the pro-unification camp.

In 2000, Soong’s defection from the KMT to run as an independent candidate for president enabled Chen Shui-bian of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party to narrowly win the poll.

Since then, Soong has never been absent from a presidential race.

In 2004, he served as the running mate of his former rival, KMT chairman Lien Chan, who was squaring off against Chen.

Were it not for a mysterious incident on the eve of the election in which Chen and his running mate Annette Lu Hsiu-lien were shot and injured, they could have won the presidency.

Chen beat the Lien-Soong ticket by just 30,000 votes, a result some analysts said was due to sympathy votes for the Chen ticket.

In 2006, Soong staged a comeback, this time eyeing the Taipei city mayoral post against the KMT’s Hau Lung-bin.

Soong even vowed to bow out of politics if he were defeated. He lost the race, in humiliating fashion, as he received just 4 per cent of total votes cast.

In 2012, Soong surprised his former political colleagues by declaring he would again make a bid for the presidency, this time facing off against the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou, who had been gradually losing popularity on account of Taiwan’s poor economic performance.

Soong became the talk of the town for going back on his word, and he finished a distant third, receiving just 2.76 per cent of the vote cast in a three-way race that included the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen.

When Soong announced his latest presidential bid in August, many critics were not surprised.

“That could be his style, or his unyielding spirit, that he thinks he should not be absent from the race, despite his rapidly faltering influence in Taiwan,” said one critic in an opinion article published by the United Daily News in Taipei last year.

But analysts said Soong’s candidacy was meant to boost the PFP’s legislative campaign.

“He knows he is unlikely to win the presidency, but his participation would help boost the chances of PFP legislative candidates,” said Wang Yeh-lih, professor of political science at National Taiwan University.

The PFP fielded five candidates for legislative seats in Taipei and other constituencies.

Surprisingly, the DPP declared that it would support a PFP candidate, drawing criticism from the KMT that the two parties were teaming up, a claim rejected by Soong, but not by the DPP.