CHIEF EXECUTIVE RACE

No reason for Beijing to mistrust me, Hong Kong leadership contender John Tsang says, as he takes aim at arch-rival

Former financial secretary claims he would be better than Carrie Lam at restoring harmony in the divided city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 10:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 January, 2017, 9:08am

One of the more popular contenders for Hong Kong’s highest office, John Tsang Chun-wah, has said there is no reason for Beijing to mistrust him as he criticised arch-rival Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for the first time by questioning her ability to bring social harmony to the city.

In a surprise move on Thursday, former finance minister Tsang also promised that if he won the chief executive election in March, he would scrap a controversial plan to put all primary school students through a new competence exam, after it was rejected by parents as a repackaging of an unpopular test that put too much pressure on children.

“We can come up with a new mechanism of random sampling ... to make sure schools and parents would not have the incentive to train their children,” Tsang said.

Lam, who was a rank higher as chief secretary, and Tsang announced they would run for the top job after Beijing approved both of their resignations on January 16. Lam waited four days for the approval while Tsang had to wait for more than a month – prompting speculation that he was not the preferred candidate.

“There is no reason for me to believe that the central government does not trust me,” Tsang told the media on Thursday. “I took up my first principal official role in 1999, I headed two policy bureaus ... and was the financial chief for nine and a half years.”

Tsang also hit out at Lam directly, saying he would be a better leader to restore harmony in a politically and socially divided city.

In a reference to their former boss, outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Tsang said: “I previously heard Carrie pledging to continue in C.Y.’s direction. But I think that society has been divided for a long time, and now we need to restore harmony so that we can move forward on issues such as economic development.”

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Dismissing Lam’s pledge to achieve good governance with “greater consensus”, Tsang said: “I think you shouldn’t just listen to what was said, because we can sound invincible in our words, but you have to look at what has been done. You can make a judgment based on my work in the last 10 years.”

Tsang replaced Lam in opinion polls as one of the most popular ministers in 2014, when Lam spearheaded the effort to push through an unpopular political reform plan with a rigid framework set by Beijing.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Tsang said: “I will bring about more participation from different sectors of the society. More than [Lam] would.”

He also dismissed the notion of Hong Kong independence as a “non-issue”, and promised that he would not dodge the issue of political reform, should he get elected, after saying earlier that it would be irresponsible to restart the process if the political climate remained unchanged from 2014, when the 79-day Occupy movement demanding greater democracy emerged.

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Lam refused to comment on Tsang’s criticism of her, as she continued to engage members of the Election Committee that will pick the city’s next leader and met representatives from the banking and financial services sectors. In the evening she had dinner with a single-parent family – a mother and two boys. Her campaign office also sent invitations to supporters and electors to attend her election rally on February 3.

The Election Committee’s 1,194 members will vote for the next chief executive on March 26.

Lam’s office also declared to the government’s electoral office that her campaign could cost up to HK$15 million, while Tsang’s office estimated it would spend up to HK$15.7 million – the maximum amount for candidates.

Tsang held separate meetings with Election Committee members from the General Chamber of Commerce and the catering sector on Thursday, and visited the Lunar New Year fair in Victoria Park in the morning to buy flowers and talk to residents.

Another contender, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing visited the fair in the afternoon, while the fourth aspirant, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, visited a similar fair at Cheung Sha Wan Playground.

Ip, chairwoman of the pro-establishment New People’s Party, also met pan-democrats representing the legal and social welfare sectors in the Election Committee.

Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam