World

HK leadership race heats up as Beijing favourite fades

Former government advisor Leung Chun-ying (3rd L) poses with his wife Regina (4th L) and supporters while holding confirmation documents from the electoral office to run in the Chief Executive election in Hong Kong February 23, 2012. A political storm that has rocked the candidacy of the frontrunner Henry Tang, former Chief Secretary and major rival of Leung, to become Hong Kong’s next leader poses a delicate challenge for Beijing, and in particular for the man expected to take over as China’s president in 2013. – Reuters picFormer government advisor Leung Chun-ying (3rd L) poses with his wife Regina (4th L) and supporters while holding confirmation documents from the electoral office to run in the Chief Executive election in Hong Kong February 23, 2012. A political storm that has rocked the candidacy of the frontrunner Henry Tang, former Chief Secretary and major rival of Leung, to become Hong Kong’s next leader poses a delicate challenge for Beijing, and in particular for the man expected to take over as China’s president in 2013. – Reuters picHONG KONG, Feb 23 – A former Hong Kong government adviser secured enough nominations today to be able to run in the city’s leadership race after a Beijing-backed frontrunner became embroiled in a property scandal and dropped approval ratings.

Former property businessman Leung Chun-ying, also a Beijing loyalist, won 293 nominations from the 1,200-member election committee for the post of chief executive in the former British territory.

But Leung trails the 378 nominations for Henry Tang, who had appeared a shoo-in next month’s election until a scandal over a basement built illegally at his wife’s property and allegations of extra-marital affairs hurt his popularity.

“My nomination shoo-in came from a variety of sectors,” said Leung, 57, who is now more popular among the city’s 7.1 million population than Tang, a former senior government official who has the backing of Hong Kong’s powerful business community.

The other contender to officially submit his nomination for the March 25 election is opposition Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho.

Leung has said he supports public housing policies, an issue that has grabbed public attention thanks to the city’s exorbitant home prices, but some say he may be hard pressed to win over Beijing and the business sector.

He has been trying to build support for more than two years, but has not won the backing of business tycoons, said James Sung, political analyst at the City University of Hong Kong.

“The business sector has no reason to trust Leung, even within another month, he will still be the enemy,” Sung said, adding that the business faction perceives Leung to be unfriendly toward their interests.

Since the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the city has picked its leader through an election committee largely handpicked by Beijing.

Shrinking public confidence in Tang’s integrity and ability to govern is likely to unnerve Beijing, which wants to avoid the public resentment that triggered a massive protest during the first post-handover administration in 2003.

More than half a million people took to the streets then to call for the resignation of Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s first chief executive.

In the latest survey commissioned by the South China Morning Post and conducted by the University of Hong Kong, Tang, 59, won the support of 16 per cent of 506 respondents, compared with 63.9 per cent who favoured Leung.

Leung, a former chairman of property consultant DTZ’s Asian arm, is a member of the National Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. – Reuters

Comments