Politician Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai's backing for Henry Tang Ying-yen in the race for chief executive is wavering, with her saying she had no idea the former chief secretary had had an affair when she pledged last month to support him.
Yesterday Fan, a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said she would delay making a decision on who to support until after considering survey findings at the close of the nomination period.
Fan's remarks came four days after she said she would not rule out the possibility of joining the fray if Tang's popularity failed to surpass that of other candidates.
'But I will honour my promise [to back Tang's bid to be next chief executive], although I will closely monitor the issue until the nomination period,' she said yesterday.
Speaking after delivering a speech at Chinese University, Fan said Tang should strive to win support from more members of the public in the next few months.
'I received many e-mails from members of the public after I promised to support Mr Tang,' Fan said. 'I can't ignore their views.'
Fan enjoys a wide margin in public support over Tang and Leung Chun-ying, former Executive Council convenor and another hopeful.
She said Tang, who resigned last week to clear the path for his campaign, was 'acceptable'. 'But I never said he is an ideal candidate or my favoured choice for the post.'
Responding to a student's question on whether she would run, Fan said: 'I leave it to the members of the public to decide whether I should stand in the election. I will monitor the findings of opinion polls conducted by the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University.'
A supporter of Tang's said the change in Fan's stance would unavoidably affect his prospects, although it would not deal a serious blow. 'What is more crucial is whether the negative effect of Tang's confession of marital infidelity will fade out in the next two weeks,' they said.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, believes Fan's wavering indicates that some figures in the pro-establishment camp want to prevent Leung from becoming the camp's sole candidate in the event of Tang quitting in the wake of his scandal.
'Those people want a plan B under which Rita Fan could challenge Leung,' Choy said. 'Such a development will put Tang in an unfavourable situation.'
The chief executive election will be held on March 25.
In his first public function since his resignation, Tang yesterday visited the Kwai Fong Youth College to bolster his image among the students.
In January, Tang was widely criticised after saying that twenty-somethings should not be 'obstinate and self-opinionated' and that those 'marching courageously forward could easily face a tragic end'.
Yesterday, he tried mending fences. 'I chose to visit a youth centre as my first public function since I believe they are pillars of the future society,' said Tang, who has still not announced his candidacy.