A dispute between the two leading contenders for chief executive over illegal structures on village houses has escalated.
Yesterday Leung Chun-ying hit back at his rival Henry Tang Ying-yen, who had referred to unauthorised structures on the small houses of male indigenous villagers as 'so-called illegal structures'. Tang's comment marked an apparent departure from the government's line and was seen by pan-democrats as an attempt to win support from the powerful Heung Yee Kuk rural body.
The way the next government addresses the problem is considered a parameter of how the kuk, which holds 28 votes on the 1,200-seat Election Committee, may decide to vote.
The executive committee of the kuk will meet today to discuss its choice of candidate.
One of the executive committee members, Alfred Lam Kwok-cheong, said there was no need for the kuk to state its preferred candidate yet.
'Let's leave the matter at least until after the Lunar New Year,' he said, adding that the kuk planned to invite Tang and Leung to a forum to elaborate on their governing vision and stance on the New Territories.
Tang insisted yesterday that he had never said the Basic Law protected illegal structures.
'I have long upheld the principle that all should abide by the law in the region under the rule of law. There is no mention of the words 'building illegal structures' in the Basic Law. So please don't add something into the Basic Law,' he said.
He was apparently targeting comments by Leung on Sunday, when he said: 'I have never heard that illegal structures in village houses are protected by the Basic Law. There is only one set of laws in Hong Kong. We should abide by the law.'
The argument was sparked by Tang's earlier remark on Sunday, when he said: 'The so-called illegal structures have their unique historical backgrounds. When dealing with this problem, we not only have to act in accordance with the law, but also respect the indigenous residents' rights as laid down in the Basic Law.'
Leung said yesterday: 'We should act in accordance with the law. There is only one set of laws in Hong Kong. We cannot say there is a set of laws on Hong Kong [Island] and Kowloon, and another in the New Territories. All should be treated in the same way.'
Asked if his stance would affect his chance of getting the kuk's endorsement, Leung said: 'I of course want to get nominations from the Heung Yee Kuk friends and their votes in the election. But acting in accordance with the law is definitely the most important principle I uphold.'