The leader of one of Taiwan's smaller pro-China parties hopes to run in the January presidential election in a move that could take votes away from incumbent Ma Ying-jeou and potentially open the door to an opposition victory.

James Soong, leader of the People First Party, an offshoot of Ma's ruling Nationalist Party, said on Tuesday he has collected enough signatures in a public petition to give him the right to stand as a candidate.

He will need to have the signatures verified by the election commission, and then formally register as a candidate in November.

The commission will finalise the candidates list in early December.

Taiwan will go to the polls on January 14 to choose its next president, in elections that will determine the future of its relations with political rival and potential military foe China for the next four years.

Ma, seeking to build on the success of his policy of opening business ties with China that has boosted the island's economy, is facing a stiff challenge from a resurgent opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The DPP, traditionally pro-independence, says Ma's policies have not benefited all the population and are opening the door for China to use its economic clout to further its stated aim of taking back Taiwan.

China favours a Ma victory, and has already warned the DPP that a victory by it could jeopardise the progress in relations so far.

Recent opinion polls put the candidates very close in terms of support, but the entry of Soong could split the vote for Ma.

The reason I'm not supporting the current president is that the people are asking for a better choice, Soong told local TV

Soong ran unsuccessfully for president as an independent in 2000, when his candidacy split the vote for the Nationalists and gave the DPP victory.

(Reporting by Jonathan Standing; Editing by Ed Lane)