Daily shorts Nov 10

What to make of James Soong? I don’t know, other analysts don’t know, so why not indulge in some idle speculation? Or like the Asia Times, which really let’s its imagination go wild with this one? Try and keep up now: Soong’s presidential campaign is a strategy to keep the PFP salient so that it can win enough seats (specifically Hualien, Kinmen and three aboriginal seats) to become pivotal (no less than a “kingmaker”) in the 8th Yuan, as a coalition partner to the DPP (which, even if it wins the presidency will inevitably be a minority in the legislature). Soong will simultaneously avenge age-old snubs by Ma (remember 2000?) and Lien Chan, by taking the latter’s beloved APEC job. In the event of Tsai winning, Soong will avert a reprisal of tensions with China because he is “trusted by Beijing” (probably not an endorsement you should put in your campaign ads, James) and an acceptable “shackle” to “DPP adventurism” (that’s what it says, don’t shoot the messenger, ok?).

This reminds me of a public speaking course I attended where we had to say words out loud, any words randomly ordered, for a minute in order to warm the voice box up. This particular collection of words looks to me suspiciously like the transcript of a James Soong daydream. However, the article does resist, heroically, the temptation (or is it an international diktat?) to write “pro-independence DPP”, instead going with the demure “anti-unification DPP candidate”.

As prescient as this Asia Times article may turn out to be, this UDN piece is more interesting on a number of levels. It opens with the line “loads of people are asking themselves, James, what the heck are you up to?” UDN can only think of four possibilities: he wants to be president, he wants to lead the PFP caucus in the Yuan, he wants to become head of the Executive Yuan or SEF (and thereby set himself up to influence cross-Strait relations), or finally he simply wants to pull Ma down and help Tsai get elected. Number one is out. Number two is scratched, because if his goal was that limited he could it achieve it in any number of less hassle-some ways. Paraphrasing, number 3 is a one in a million shot because whichever party wins, there’s no way they’d give such a shifty character as Soong an important position like that.

Which only leaves this: Soong wants to bring Ma down and allow Tsai to win. Remember that UDN is traditionally predisposed toward the KMT (that might be an understatement), and Soong should expect (I’m sure he does) a lot of attacks from this direction. The key point of the build up is this: 3-5% of the vote is all Soong needs to assure Tsai of victory. If I can interpret: “if you’re angry with Ma and considering voting for Soong, remember, it only takes a few people like you and the DPP will get in”. Of course we don’t know how many votes Soong might receive, and from whom he might take them. But this commentary (if I’m right to make this inference) is eerily reminiscent of blue media stories in 2000 and indeed a lot of KMT campaign advertising. Many materials have featured similarly precise quantifications of what is essentially the “DPP fear factor”, that long time staple of KMT campaigns: a vote for anyone but us will let the DPP in which in turn will lead to a) war with China, b) economic collapse or c) both.

The “quantification of danger” is something to watch out for once the Soong effect starts to show up in the polls, because if he starts showing anything like 10% levels of support, it will have a significant effect on the dynamics of the campaign. Remember that polling 10% support wouldn’t mean he would actually get 10% of votes, because as a third party spoiler his actual vote count will suffer attrition as those who tell pollsters they support Soong face up to the reality of wasting their vote in the booth. Another thing to look out for is how Tsai deals with the inevitable fear attacks if she takes the lead in the polls. Being the frontrunner in the polls is an unusual position for a DPP presidential candidate to be in. Indeed I think I’m right in saying that no DPP candidate has enjoyed that status, not even CSB when he stood for re-election. Being the frontrunner would render Tsai more vulnerable to fear attacks (as the possibility of her winning becomes more credible). It will be interesting to see whether her team will try to inoculate against such attacks if her numbers continue to improve.

Mail me at jonathan.sullivan@nottingham.ac.uk, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at http://jonlsullivan.com