Calling for the great debate
Nearly 80 per cent of respondents surveyed in a poll published yesterday by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme expressed the hope that the leading candidates vying to become the next chief executive will face each other in a live debate.
The survey, commissioned by the South China Morning Post, was carried out between Monday and Thursday and found 79.5 per cent of the 1,001 respondents polled by telephone agreed that 'the potential candidates should take part in face-to-face debates in same sessions as soon as possible'. Only 5.1 per cent disagreed with the statement.
The finding increases the pressure on former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, one of the candidates, who has refused to take part in any such debate until after the nomination period ends on February 29.
Tang's main rival, former Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying, raised the issue during a radio debate with the pan-democratic candidate Albert Ho Chun-yan last month.
During the programme, Leung said it was irresponsible for candidates not to face the public in a direct debate. He has since sent written requests to Tang's campaign office, asking for such a debate. Tang turned down Leung's requests, saying it was better to wait until all candidates had released their policy platforms and their candidacies were confirmed. His campaign team said Tang preferred to hold the debate after the Election Committee's nomination period closed.
Tang is the only candidate who has yet to deliver detailed policy proposals. He pledged this week that he would unveil his manifesto before the nomination period begins on Tuesday.
Political observers said earlier the widening of the gap between Tang and Leung could be attributed to Tang's reluctance to enter a direct debate with his key opponent.
An HKU poll conducted last week found the gap in support between Leung and Tang had widened to 19.5 percentage points, 6.3 points more than in an early poll in January. The latest poll found the popularity gap has widened further to 23.1 points, with 49.2 per cent of respondents supporting Leung.
Professor Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University, said Tang's refusal to debate directly with his rivals had become a liability.
'It's difficult [for Tang] to explain to the public why he is still not yet ready to deliver a manifesto as the nomination period approaches,' Ma said.
He said the poll result showed the public disagreed with Tang's claim the debate should be held only after the candidacies had been confirmed.
'The public expects a direct debate, albeit an informal one like Leung against Ho on the radio programme. It has piled more pressure on Tang,' he said.
The respondents were also questioned about the number of pro-establishment camp candidates they wanted to see enter the chief executive race. Nearly 15 per cent said they wanted only one candidate, while 12.7 per cent said they wanted two. However, 18.4 per cent said they wanted none and 21.4 per cent said 'it doesn't matter'.
Respondents also listed their expectations of the 1,200 members of the Election Committee, who will choose the city's next leader on March 25.
About 75 per cent said the committee members should base their choice on a candidate's platform, leadership and competence, while 54.2 per cent said a candidate's personal integrity, moral standing and affinity should be concerned.
Fewer than 15 per cent said the candidate's popularity should be considered and only 6.4 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively said the preferences of the central government and subsectors in the committee should be taken into consideration.