Rivals turn up the heat in Hong Kong leadership race

Former judge Woo Kwok-hing shreds Leung Chun-ying’s record as chief executive as both men tout their credentials, while John Tsang drops another hint

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 October, 2016, 2:13pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 October, 2016, 9:52am

Potential contenders in Hong Kong’s chief executive race used different means on Sunday to tout their leadership credentials, even as one of them tore into incumbent Leung Chun-ying and questioned his achievements.

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing went on the offensive against the chief executive and reversed an earlier declaration that he might quit the contest if his candidacy “snatched away” and split votes, thereby ensuring Leung a second term.

“Vote-snatching is not logical and it will not happen. I will not withdraw,” he told a radio show.

Contenders will be selected in March by a 1,200-strong Election Committee.

On what Leung had accomplished over the past four years, he said: “Citizens can see it clearly. Everyone knows what he has done and what he failed to do. What the government has done was mainly the achievement of civil servants, instead of [Leung’s] personal merits. The merits belong to the excellent teamwork of the civil service.”

The 70-year-old’s fighting words came as Leung cited his top five achievements in the latest issue of Bauhinia Magazine .

He said since he assumed office in 2012, the government had been determined to solve the city’s land and housing shortages, had boosted welfare spending, promoted innovation, pressed on with infrastructure projects, and expanded ties with the mainland and abroad. Profits tax revenue in the last fiscal year hit a record HK$140 billion, which showed a good financial foundation, Leung added.

Later, at a Hong Kong Scout rally, Leung underscored the principles of “one country, two systems”, saying that, as part of China, Hong Kong must “safeguard our country’s sovereignty, safety and interest”, while as part of two systems it continued to enjoy a high degree of autonomy.

He declined to comment on Woo’s criticism.

Woo himself was asked about his own track record during the radio show. The former chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission dismissed talk he lacked experience in public administration.

“If I have to spell out my achievements, it would take a lot of time. Everything I did was pioneering,” he said. “I took part in the probe of the 1996 Garley Building fire ... Even the existing election regulations were designed by me.”

Woo said he did not need Beijing’s “blessing and protection”.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah meanwhile seemed to suggest he needed such blessings, even as he dangled yet another hint on his candidacy.

Speaking before the opening of a drama on the life of Shakespeare on Saturday night, Tsang paraphrased Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” line, saying: “I was supposed to cite a famous Shakespearean quote, but I know what you want to hear is another version: to run, or not to run, that is the question.”

In his weekly blog, he wrote about patriotism – a hot topic seen as a way to burnish his credentials and secure Beijing’s blessing.

At the opening of the legislature on October 12, two localist lawmakers triggered outrage when they referred to China as “Chee-na”, a variation of the derogatory term Shina used by Japan during the wartime, in their oath-taking ceremony. He recounted how he faced discrimination as an undergraduate in the United States and took part in patriotic student movements.

Several politicians declined to reveal whom they would support in the leadership race. Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, only said Woo was “humorous” and did a good job in public service”.