The Soong Factor

People’s First Party (PFP) chairman James Soong reaffirmed his commitment to run in next year’s presidential election. Soong’s split from the Kuomintang (KMT) in 2000 after failing to receive the party’s presidential nomination lead to the first transfer of power on the island, with Chen Shui-bian winning with only 39.3% of the vote. His unsuccessful vice presidential bid in 2004 followed by an abysmal showing in the 2006 Taipei mayoral election (garnering 4% of the vote) seemed to spell the end for both Soong’s larger ambitions and his party’s future. Yet, again Soong has emerged as a potential game changer in Taiwanese electoral politics.

The majority of the attention so far has been on how Soong’s entry will affect Ma Ying-jeou’s re-election efforts, seeing that Soong will largely be pulling votes away from disenchanted KMT supporters. Such worries seem premature at best (he may still pull out, especially if the KMT offers enough incentives) and a gross overestimation of Soong’s presidential pull at worst. This is not 2000 however and voters and parties alike are increasingly savvy regarding the implications of splitting the blue vote on the national stage.

The return of Soong however arguably presents a greater threat to the KMT in the Legislative Yuan election. With the PFP coordinating on district elections and the party list with the KMT in 2008, the KMT won two-thirds of the seats. If even a marginally rejuvenated PFP opts instead to run its own candidates in select districts against the KMT (with or without its own party list), this provides a window for additional seats to swing towards the DPP. For example, of the 52 districts in which the KMT candidate beat out a DPP candidate, 13 were by less than ten percent. Assuming a political environment more conducive to the DPP than 2008, the presence of even marginal PFP candidates in any of these districts could have turned these races in the DPP’s favor.

The coupling of the presidential and legislative elections next year presents a unique opportunity for James Soong and the remnants of the PFP. For now, only Soong knows his end game.

Timothy S. Rich is a doctoral candidate in political science at Indiana University, working on the impact of electoral reforms. Visit his research pages here.

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