D.A.B. may leave it to a free vote
Peter So, Gary Cheung and Tanna Chong
The leader of Hong Kong's largest Beijing-loyalist party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said its choice for the city's next chief executive did not hang on any single issue, and hinted for the first time that most of its members would be given a free vote in nominating.
The remarks by Tam Yiu-chung, DAB chairman, came as one of the two main hopefuls for the city's top job, Leung Chun-ying, was caught up in a row about whether the former Executive Council convenor failed to declare a conflict of interest in a competition for a West Kowloon reclamation project, in which he served as a selection-panel member, in 2002.
Leung, who says he was not aware of whose entry he voted for since the designs were put before the panel anonymously, maintained yesterday that no members of the Election Committee for the Hong Kong chief executive had withdrawn their nominations from him since the row started on Wednesday.
Asked if this was the biggest political crisis in his election campaign, he said: 'No. If truth be told, this will not be a political crisis ... It will not affect my election campaign at all.'
Tam said yesterday: 'We'll see if the incident escalates. However, I believe the party's decision will not be judged on a single issue.'
Leung's main rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen, is vying for the support of the DAB, which holds 147 seats on the 1,200-strong Election Committee, tasked with selecting the city's next chief executive on March 25.
The party is expected to decide on Monday just how it will proceed with the nomination. Tam said letting members vote according to their personal choice, rather than a party line, was an option. It was the first time the DAB leader had indicated that its members of the Election Committee were likely to be allowed to nominate their favoured candidates.
'Some party members have already declared support for either Tang or Leung,' Tam said. 'Therefore it would be difficult, in practice, to give one candidate a block endorsement in nominations.'
Tam said the party's young members appeared to prefer Leung because he showed more concern for grass-roots issues, while members who had backgrounds in business tended to favour Tang on the grounds of experience.
Tam hinted that the party's leaders might abstain from the nomination to avoid showing preference.
He stressed that the party would decide its preferences for the nomination process and the March 25 vote itself separately.
Wong Kwok-kin, lawmaker of another Beijing-loyalist group, the Federation of Trade Unions, which holds 60 seats on the Election Committee, said he believed Leung had been guilty of carelessness but his honesty had not been questioned.
In a rare public statement, Leung's wife, Regina Leung Tong Ching-yee, voiced support for him. She said that when he helped choose the winning design for the land reclamation project he was unaware one of the competing firms of architects had listed his global real estate firm, DTZ, as an adviser.
Meanwhile, members and allies of the business-friendly Liberal Party handed 62 nominations to its former founding member Tang yesterday.
The party's vice-chairwoman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee said it was essential for a member of any jury to declare a conflict of interests.
Tang is expected to secure enough votes to be nominated for the March 25 vote, while it remains uncertain whether Leung will win the 150 nominations required.
The nomination process runs from February 14 to 29.