Why is James Soong insisting on running for president? Why is he risking throwing the presidential election to the DPP? Everyone has an answer, and so do I. However, I think my answer is a little more boring than most others. I think Soong sees an opportunity to become a critical power center again. The key is to stop thinking about the presidential race and start thinking about the legislative race, something no one seems to want to do. There is a reasonable chance that the PFP could win enough seats to deny either of the two big parties a majority in the legislature. If that happens, regardless of whether Ma or Tsai is the president, they will have to go to Soong for help if they want to pass any legislation.
Here’s the quick version of the argument. There are 113 seats in the legislature. Most people think the DPP can win about 50. The PFP could easily win seven seats. That would leave the KMT with 56 seats. Let the wooing begin!
Where would the PFP get 7 seats? Well, there are two aboriginal candidates, one of whom (Lin Cheng-er 林正二) is a very good bet to win and the other of whom (Wallis Belin 瓦歷斯貝林) has about a 50-50 shot. Chen Fu-hai 陳福海 is the incumbent in Jinmen, so you have to take him seriously. In Hualien, Chang Chih-chao 張智超 is running as an independent, but he is a puppet for county executive and PFP loyalist Fu Kun-chi. With 8% of the party list vote, the PFP should get three seats. That’s seven.
Note that only one of those seven came from seats that the DPP has a chance to win. The single seat that the PFP might be taking from the DPP is in the party list sector. However, even that isn’t quite clear, since most of the PFP party list votes probably come out of the blue camp’s pool of supporters. Moreover, the PFP doesn’t necessarily have to win all seven seats. The DPP could easily win 52 or 53 seats. (I’m on record as saying that it isn’t out of the question that the DPP could even win an outright majority. However, that would remove all of the PFP’s bargaining power.)
It’s amazing. This outcome is a very realistic possibility, and I have yet to see any mention of it in the media. As far as I know, no one has uttered the magic phrase 三黨不過半 yet. They should start thinking about it.
So that’s what Soong is thinking about, and that’s why he is campaigning hard.
Now for the longer version.
Soong is never going to be president. He’s not going to win this year, and he is already 69 years old. I’m sure he understands this. However, it seems clear that he is not ready to retire and become a doddering party elder with no power, like Lien Chan or Wu Po-hsiung. With all the enemies he has made in the KMT over the last decade and a half, that might not even be an option.
Soong has three options. He can merge with the KMT, cooperate with the KMT, or compete with the KMT.
He could completely merge his party with the KMT. However, the two parties are not equals any longer. The PFP would be absorbed into the KMT, and none of its members would be moving to the center of power. At his age, Soong can’t realistically hope to take over the party and lead it. This also holds for most of the PFP members. Take Huang Shan-shan 黃珊珊. She is one of the PFP’s most capable members. She handles most of the party’s legal challenges, and is a charismatic spokeswoman. What if she joined the KMT? The KMT has dozens of Taipei City Council members, not to mention dozens of legislators, cabinet members, and countless other elected officials. Who has a higher profile, PFP member Huang Shan-shan or KMT member Lin Yi-hua 林奕華? Nearly every PFP member with enough personal status to survive the move to the KMT has already made the leap. The people still in the PFP are probably better off as big fish in a small party.
What about cooperation? Four years ago, the PFP tried the cooperation strategy, and it was a complete disaster. Let’s go back and look at how the PFP fell apart. A lot, but not all of it, has to do with the new electoral system. In 2004, the PFP elected 34 legislators. When the new electoral system was passed, a lot of these legislators made the strategic decision that the best way to survive was to win the KMT nomination. 12 legislators defected to the KMT in 2005 and 2006. There wasn’t much the PFP could do about these 12. They effectively opted for the first strategy, merging, whether Soong liked it or not. However, that still left 22 legislators who didn’t defect. In 2008, the PFP decided to cooperate with the KMT. PFP members joined the KMT, were nominated by the KMT, and ran under the KMT’s banner. The PFP even got three spots on the KMT’s party list. In the table, these people are marked as having left the PFP for the “election.” Nine legislators won seats this way, three on the party list and six in districts. (Two others lost.) Where are those nine people today, now that the PFP wants to assert its independent identity? Eight are still in the KMT. The lone exception is Hualien County Executive Fu Kun-chi, who is not in the legislature. The other eight were simply absorbed back into the KMT. From Soong’s point of view, they are no longer his soldiers. They don’t answer to him at all. Collaboration has been a disaster for the PFP. All it achieved was to transform eleven PFP legislators into KMT members.
|Name||Name||Leave PFP||2008 election|
|張顯耀||Chang Hsien-yao||D||Election||KMT list|
|邱毅||Chiu Yi||D||05.5.23||KMT list|
|李永萍||Lee Yong-ping||D||06.1.27||Resigned 07.1.23, DNR|
|林郁方||Lin Yu-fang||D||06.1.25||KMT district|
|李慶安||Dianne Lee||D||06.2.14||KMT district|
|周錫瑋||Chou Hsi-wei||D||05.4.13||Resigned 05.12.20, Taipei County|
|吳清池||Wu Ching-chih||D||Election||KMT district|
|柯淑敏||Ko Shu-ming||D||Election||KMT district (lost)|
|李鴻鈞||Lee Hung-chun||D||Election||KMT district|
|李慶華||Lee Ching-hua||D||05.6.3||KMT district|
|林德福||Lin Te-fu||D||06.1.27||KMT district|
|鄭金玲||Cheng Chin-ling||D||Election||KMT list|
|孫大千||Sun Ta-chien||D||06.1.27||KMT district|
|徐耀昌||Hsu Yao-chang||D||Election||KMT district|
|陳朝容||Chen Chao-rung||D||06.6.17||IND district (lost)|
|鍾紹和||Chung Shao-ho||D||Election||KMT district|
|傅崐萁||Fu Kun-chi||D||Election||KMT district (now back in PFP)|
|謝國樑||Hsieh Kuo-liang||D||06.4.17||KMT district|
|呂學樟||Lu Hsueh-chang||D||Election||KMT district|
|沈智慧||Chen Chih-hwei||D||—||IND district (lost)|
|黃義交||Hwang Yi-jiau||D||Election||KMT district|
|高思博||Kao Su-po||D||06.2.3||KMT district (lost)|
|林正二||Lin Cheng-er||A||—||PFP aborigines|
|林春德||Lin Chung-te||A||—||PFP aborigines (lost)|
|李復甸||Li Ful-dien||L||Entered LY 07.1.18, DNR|
|羅淑蕾||Lo Shu-lei||L||Election||Entered LY 07.11.26, KMT list|
|劉憶如||Christina Liu||L||—||Resigned 07.11.20, DNR|
|顧崇廉||Ku Chung-lien||L||—||Died 07.1.15, DNR|
This time, Soong and the PFP are trying the third strategy, competition. They have to figure out how to build a new party with elected members who can survive in this new system and will not feel a need to defect to the KMT. The PFP’s strategy is built around three types of legislators. First, they need to win some seats on the party list. Look at the table above. In 2004, the PFP elected 25 people from the districts. 12 of these defected. They won 7 seats on the party list, and two other people got list seats when they were vacated. Not a single one of these nine people quit the party. (Lo Shu-lei joined the KMT and won a spot on the KMT’s list, but that was part of the collaboration strategy and was encouraged by the PFP leaders.) In fact, party list members can’t be disloyal. If they piss off party leaders, the leaders can kick them out of the party. If they lose their party membership, they lose their seats. So if the PFP can win three list seats, it is assured of three loyal soldiers.
Second, the PFP is targeting aboriginal seats. The main reason it is doing this is that Soong still has a high level of popularity with many aboriginal voters. However, it is also critical that the aboriginal seats are still elected under the old system. They have two three seat districts instead of six single seat districts. A PFP legislator can survive in a three seat district.
Third and most difficult, the PFP hopes to win a couple of seats in overwhelmingly blue districts. Jinmen is the most obvious case, but Hualien also fits. In these areas, the PFP should be able to compete with the KMT without necessarily throwing the seat to the DPP. Moreover, the PFP is targeting areas where the PFP in its heyday was even more popular than the KMT. The hope is that the PFP can win a toehold in these deep blue seats. The challenges in Da-an, Wenshan, Zhongli, and Neihu roughly fit this pattern. However, legislators elected in these districts will always be tempted to defect to the KMT, so these are the most tenuous seats.
There are two types of glue that can hold together a party, ideals and pork. If the PFP can manage to become a critical minority, it will be able to extract a lot of pork. Ideals are a different matter. Much of the PFP’s appeal is based on Soong’s charisma, specifically the idea that Soong is the most compassionate and competent politician on the entire island. That’s great for Soong, but it won’t hold his party together. I think this is one reason that Soong has recently taken a much more aggressive stance on unification with China.
This still leaves us with the question of why Soong needs to run for president. I believe the answer is obvious: running for president will help the PFP win party list seats. If might help in the district races as well, though probably more in the races the PFP has little chances of winning. The candidates in the four races I think the PFP can win aren’t relying on Soong.
Soong’s campaign for president helps in two ways. First, it keeps the PFP on the stage. The media is focused entirely on the presidential campaigns. How much attention are the TSU and NP getting right now? They won’t be participating in the presidential debates, their presidential candidates won’t be on TV, and reporters won’t be asking them what the party stands for. They are ignorable.
Second, Soong’s hopeless presidential bid encourages sympathy votes for the party list. Polls have shown Soong at anywhere from 7-14%. I think most of that will evaporate. The presidential race is very close, and most people just won’t be able to waste their vote on Soong. I’ll be very surprised if he gets 3%. However, that still leaves 4-11% of the electorate who like Soong and will feel somewhat guilty about not voting for him. Psychologically, I think a lot will assuage this guilt by telling him (or his picture on the ballot), “I’m sorry I can’t vote for you, but I’ll at least vote for your party.” I don’t think 8% is unrealistic at all.
So that’s why I think Soong is running for president. We’ve all been so focused on the presidential race, that we have completely missed the PFP’s real purpose. The legislative race is the driving force. If Soong just happens to win enough votes to throw the presidency to Tsai Ing-wen, that will simply be an unfortunate side effect.