TAIPEI • Taiwan's political veteran James Soong announced yesterday he would run for president, taking on two female candidates in an already dramatic battle and posing yet another headache for the beleaguered ruling Kuomintang (KMT).
It will be the fourth presidential bid by Mr Soong, chairman of the pro-China People First Party (PFP), who has flip-flopped between being an ally and a foe of the KMT.
China policy will be at the centre of the leadership race as concern mounts over warming ties with the mainland, a major factor in the decline in public support for the Beijing-friendly KMT.
Taiwan split from China in 1949 after a civil war and is self-ruling, but Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory.
Mr Soong, 73, will run against Ms Hung Hsiu-chu, 67, of KMT and Ms Tsai Ing-wen, 58, of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which takes a sceptical approach towards China relations. Ms Tsai is the clear front runner, with Ms Hung having to row back on her pro-unification message after a public backlash and criticism from her own party. Mr Soong poses a further threat to Ms Hung as he appeals to the pro-China camp.
"Taiwan and China need to work together, not antagonise each other," Mr Soong said in his candidacy speech in Taipei yesterday.
"Maintaining the status quo is the biggest consensus we have in Taiwan right now. A divided Taiwan cannot compete on the world stage," he told supporters.
Mr Soong took only 2.77 per cent of votes in the 2012 election, when current President Ma Ying-jeou beat Ms Tsai to the leadership.
He had served in the KMT for decades - starting as a secretary to then President Chiang Ching-kuo - before leaving the party in 2000 to run as an independent presidential candidate after failing to be nominated to represent the party.
Mr Soong and Mr Lien Chan (KMT) lost to DPP's Chen Shui-bian in a controversial election that put the opposition party in power for the first time.