Hong Kong chief executive candidates to face off in series of debates as election day looms

Former financial chief John Tsang criticises rival for ‘slogan with little meaning’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 9:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 9:35pm

All three candidates vying for Hong Kong’s top job will face off in series of debates over the final weeks leading up to the city’s chief executive election.

Former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing will exchange views for the first time this Sunday at a forum organised by the Professional Teachers’ Union – one of the city’s biggest labour unions by membership.

But the first debate will prove to be just a warm-up with the organisers confirming they had not arranged for the three to directly ask each other questions. Audience members will be given time to question the candidates.

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The key battle will play out on Tuesday night when the three cross swords during a two-hour-long televised session organised by various media outlets. The debate will be held at TVB City in Tseung Kwan O.

The following Sunday, all three will again take their places in a debate organised by pro-establishment and pan-democratic Election Committee members. The committee, comprising 1,194 members, will vote exactly a week after the March 19 debate.

In a prelude to the confrontation expected during the debates, Tsang on Metro Radio on Tuesday criticised Lam’s approach to public finance and questioned her focus on government reserves.

Noting that government expenditure saw a twofold increase during his tenure as financial secretary, Tsang insisted that focus should be on how much the government has been spending.

“It is a wrong starting point to look at how much the reserves were,” Tsang said.

He labelled Lam’s campaign promise for a new financial philosophy a “slogan with little meaning”.

Lam bagged 580 nominations from the Election Committee to qualify as an official candidate, just short of the 601 needed to win on March 26.

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But sources in Tsang’s campaign office said they hoped to see some Lam supporters turn against her come election day.

The final vote will be done through a secret ballot, unlike the nomination process.

Meanwhile Woo, the former High Court judge, has seemingly lost ground with his supporters after an alliance of more than 300 pan-democrats moved to shore up support for Tsang ahead of the final leadership battle. Lam, who is considered to be a Beijing-loyalist, has found little appeal among pan-democrats.

While the election is still more than two weeks away, Lam is already mulling over her future cabinet, according to Bernard Chan, head of Lam’s campaign office.

“Lam had said that if she wins the election, she will need a new team, new faces and a new style of government,” Chan said. “We have not talked about the topic [of official appointments] yet.”