Taiwan's minority party leader James Soong announces bid for president

James Soong, Chairman of the People First Part, joins hands with supporters during a press conference in Taipei on Aug 6, 2015. Mr Soong will contest the presidential elections in 2016.
James Soong, Chairman of the People First Part, joins hands with supporters during a press conference in Taipei on Aug 6, 2015. Mr Soong will contest the presidential elections in 2016.PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (Reuters) - A 73-year-old Taiwan politician announced on Thursday he will run for president in January, likely acting as a spoiler boosting the chances of the independence-leaning opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rival to win.

Mr James Soong is chairman of the minority People First Party (PFP), a splinter party he formed 15 years ago that has been siphoning members of the ruling party, unhappy with political infighting and its unpopularity over a perceived creeping dependence on giant neighbour China.

Mr Soong and his PFP hold pro-China views similar to the ruling Nationalists, known in Chinese as the Kuomintang (KMT).

The once-powerful Nationalist politician has run and lost three elections as either a presidential or vice-presidential candidate.

"I shall return!" Mr Soong shouted into a hotel ballroom crowded with around 350 supporters hoisting orange party flags.

Mr Soong's entry into the race is expected to split votes that would go to the KMT, paving the way for front runner and DPP presidential hopeful Tsai Ing-wen to win.

He may draw voters from Ms Tsai and the KMT's Ms Hung Hsiu-chu, said observers.

He may also draw support from those who do not like either of the two main candidates.

Ms Tsai appears to have a lead over Ms Hung.

The DPP last ruled Taiwan from 2000 to 2008.

"In the last 16 years, the DPP has won, the KMT has won, but have the people of Taiwan won?" Mr Soong said when announcing his candidacy.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT steps down next year due to term limits, ending an eight-year rule that has seen economic ties between Taiwan and China at their best levels.

But the January vote for both president and legislators is coming as democratically minded young and middle-class Taiwanese, unhappy with slowing economic growth and stagnant wages, grow suspicious of China's intentions and see only big business prospering from closer ties.

The KMT fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war against Mao Zedong's communists in 1949. China has since viewed the island as a renegade province and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it under its control.

The KMT are already expected to be dealt a thrashing in the presidential poll by the DPP, a result likely to irritate China, though no one expects close economic ties to unravel.