Tang declines debate with rivals
Stuart Lau, Colleen Lee and Helene Franchineau
Henry Tang Ying-yen, who said two days ago he could take on his election rivals at kick-boxing, was yesterday criticised for again shying away from a public debate with them.
The criticism came after the former chief secretary declined an invitation from 12 local environmental groups that was warmly welcomed by his two competitors for the city's top job: former Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying and Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan.
According to forum organisers, including Greenpeace and WWF Hong Kong, Tang replied by saying he could attend on condition there was no direct debate with his rivals.
The forum was expected to cover pressing issues: air pollution, waste management and conservation. The organisers started approaching the three in November. Ho and Leung agreed agreed earlier this month.
Joining a crowd at a soccer match yesterday, Tang said an open debate should come after all three candidates had declared their election platforms. 'When everyone's platforms are released, we can have a higher-level and more in-depth debate that's more objective,' he said. 'There'll be a lot of chances to debate together on such occasions.'
Of the candidates, only Tang has not unveiled a preliminary platform for public consultation.
Tang, who practised kick-boxing in front of cameras two days ago, said he believed he could beat Leung if there was a bout between them. Leung yesterday replied that he had dedicated his time recently to formulating a platform, and had sacrificed his sporting activities.
Leung said he did not understand why Tang kept turning down debate invitations. 'What has been disappointing to many is that Mr Henry Tang has never been willing to [attend debates] at the same time and in the same venue, so a rather special situation has arisen in Hong Kong: that during electioneering, candidates cannot discuss policies at the same time, let alone debate.'
The former Exco convenor again criticised Tang for a lack of achievements when the No 2 official in government. Leung said Tang as chief secretary failed to stop more than 100,000 mainland mothers-to-be from giving birth in Hong Kong. And as head of a commission on poverty: 'The more [Tang] helped, the poorer [Hong Kong] became.'
In response to these criticisms, Tang said he had introduced policies like transport subsidies for low-income earners and funds to help with children's development.
Dr Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a Chinese University political scientist, said Tang's refusal to attend debates exacerbated his mediocre image.
'This gives an impression of procrastination,' Choy said.
Ho said Tang's refusals were perhaps because 'debating could only lead to his losing votes'.
He added: 'I've heard theories suggesting that should there be a debate [between Tang and Leung], it may lead to a split in the pro-establishment camp.
'So, many people don't want them to appear on the same occasion at the same time.'