Tang quits 'to think about my next move'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am


Henry Tang Ying-yen effectively resigned as chief secretary yesterday, clearing the way for his campaign to become the city's next leader.

Kicking off what may be a two-horse race between himself and Leung Chun-ying, the presumed front runner said he had tendered his resignation to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in the morning.

But he stopped short of declaring his candidacy, acknowledging only that 'many people' had recently encouraged him to run.

'I know deep in my heart that this will be a great challenge for me. I need time and space to seriously think about the suggestion,' Tang said.

Speaking at a press conference, at which he did not take reporters' questions, Tang unveiled a de facto manifesto in his farewell speech as the city's No 2 official.

'I need to consider how to improve our livelihoods and ensure that all sectors, particularly the underprivileged, will be able to truly share the fruit of our economic success,' he said. 'I will have to consider how to foster harmony in our society and uphold social justice.'

Tang said the stakes involved more than his own future.

'I will have to be satisfied that the decision will be a good one for all of us in Hong Kong. If I really decide to stand in the chief executive election, it will be the most solemn and challenging moment of my career.'

Tang officially went on leave from yesterday to wait for his resignation to be approved by Beijing. If the experience of Donald Tsang in 2005 is any guide, Tang's resignation may be approved in a week and his campaign could begin soon afterwards. The State Council approved Tsang's resignation as chief secretary on June 2, 2005, eight days after he quit.

Tang, 59, joined the government in 2002 as secretary for commerce, industry and technology. He succeeded Antony Leung Kam-chung as financial secretary the following year and became chief secretary in 2007.

The South China Morning Post reported last week that China's top leadership had reached a consensus that Tang was its preferred candidate for Hong Kong's next chief executive. But Tang's popularity rating in Hong Kong plunged after he said it was 'completely rubbish' that the government's security arrangements for a visit to the city last month by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang had violated civil rights.

Michael Suen Ming-yeung, secretary for education, will act as chief secretary until Beijing approves Donald Tsang's nomination of Tang's successor. Stephen Lam Sui-lung, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, and Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong, secretary for security, have emerged as front runners.

'The tenure of Tang's successor will last for only nine months,' a government source said. 'Ambrose Lee, who is expected to retire after the term of the current administration expires next year, is a more suitable candidate as interim chief secretary.'

Tsang said Tang's departure was a loss for him and his team.

'I appreciate that he needs to contemplate his next move in better serving the public. I am grateful for Mr Tang's dedication in serving the community,' Tsang said.

Leung, the Executive Council convenor and Tang's presumed rival in the chief executive race, said he would welcome Tang's intention to run for the job. 'Those interested in standing in the election should conduct a thorough and in-depth discussion on their governing philosophy and methods to resolve Hong Kong's deep-rooted conflicts.'

Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee who had earlier signalled her support for Tang, said Tang had acted appropriately by taking leave before declaring his intentions to run, so that 'there would be no misunderstanding that he is trying to make use of his role to achieve some other [personal] aims'.

Fan, who had once said she was considering running for chief executive, confirmed she would honour a promise to back Tang once his resignation formally took effect.

But she declined to rule herself out of the race. 'He [Tang] is the one I find acceptable, but I don't think there is an ideal person for the post yet,' Fan said. 'I will continue to gather opinions from different people and will be closely watching developments until the close of nomination period.'

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, another potential candidate, said she would continue to woo the public for support. But Ip, chairwoman of the New People's Party and a former security secretary, admitted it would be difficult for her to get enough nominations from the Election Committee members because Tang and Leung had already won strong support from a range of sectors.