Liberals struggle to retain grip in chamber

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 May, 2009, 12:00am
 

Former Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun and a group of core members of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce are locking horns over the election of the chamber's governing body.

A chamber source said the two candidates backed by Mr Tien were likely to lose in the election next Tuesday, signalling a waning of the Liberal Party's influence and its allies in the city's biggest business organisation.

But a source familiar with Mr Tien's campaign said any move to oust the two small-to-medium-enterprise representatives by 'parachuting in' heavyweight Beijing loyalists would only make the chamber 'another Chinese General Chamber of Commerce'. The Chinese chamber is a stronghold of the leftist camp.

Eight candidates are contesting six seats on the general committee in the race, the first contested election for the chamber's leadership in the past decade. Of the 25 members of the chamber's general committee, 23 have given their backing to first-time candidates Yu Pang-chun and Nicholas Brooke.

Mr Tien and chamber vice-chairman Yeung Kwok-ki, who is also a Liberal Party member, are the only two committee members who do not support the two candidates.

The chamber source said Mr Tien was canvassing for votes for another two candidates, Gerry Ma Kai-yung and Shirley Hui, who are allies of the Liberal Party.

All members of the committee have endorsed the candidacy of Mr Tien and another three serving members.

It is understood that Mr Tien, who resigned as Liberal Party chairman following his defeat in last year's Legco election, and his rivals are mobilising support for their favoured candidates.

Chan Wing-kee, who will retire from the general committee, said it was time for him to make way for new blood as he had served on the committee since 1993.

'I hope the chamber will truly represent different voices of the business community, rather than being manipulated by political parties,' he said.

'It is the dog which wags the tail, not the tail which wags the dog.'

Mr Chan nominated Mr Yu, who is director of Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium, for the race, while Mr Brooke was nominated by chamber chairman Andrew Brandler.

But the source familiar with Mr Tien's campaign said if the group of members backing Mr Yu's campaign forced Mr Ma and Ms Hui to back out, 'leftists [people close to Beijing] will dominate the chamber and destroy its tradition. We will become another Chinese General Chamber of Commerce'.

The source said both Mr Ma and Ms Hui ran for the positions with the aim of voicing the concerns of small-to-medium enterprises.

'Yu Pang-chun has not done any work for the chamber and now he wants to be parachuted in?' the source said.

The source also said Mr Tien's bid for re-election should not be affected and any attempt to dilute his votes might backfire.

About 2,600 eligible member companies of the chamber are scheduled to vote next Tuesday.

The chamber source said the Liberal Party had wielded huge influence within the chamber in the past decade and nearly half the members of the general committees were the party's allies in its heyday.

Mr Tien is understood to have retained influence in the Liberal Party although he no longer holds any position in the pro-business party.

'Mr Tien and his allies may have secured several hundred proxy votes,' another chamber source said.

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