Leung Chun-ying tendered his resignation as Executive Council convenor yesterday to run in the chief executive election in March, raising the curtain on a race which will be more competitive than some in the pro-Beijing camp originally expected. In a few days' time, Leung will leave Exco to officially launch his campaign. His would-be opponent, Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, is also expected to resign from the administration in coming days. 'There is some remaining work to be handled. As soon as that's completed, I shall leave Exco,' Leung said after the council's first meeting - and probably the last one he will attend as convenor - in the new government headquarters at the Tamar development in Admiralty. While Leung's resignation came as no surprise - he dropped several hints in the past few weeks - veteran Beijing loyalists said his refusal to give up the fight put the central government in a difficult position, meaning there would be more than one contender for the top job. The 1,200 members of the Election Committee will decide the winner. Leung, a 57-year-old surveyor, first indicated his intention to run for chief executive on September 9, when he said he would resign from Exco at an appropriate time. After discussions with Leung yesterday, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen accepted his resignation in principle. The South China Morning Post yesterday reported people close to Beijing saying that the nation's top leaders had reached a consensus that Tang was the preferred candidate. Ng Hong-mun, a former local deputy to the National People's Congress, said: 'The more the scene develops, the harder it is for Beijing to ask any candidate to withdraw from the race. Hongkongers may feel Beijing is interfering with the election, anointing a particular candidate.' Ng said a big concern for Beijing was ensuring a high 'safety coefficient' - making sure the election would not be thrown into doubt by a pan-democratic candidate. He was optimistic the Election Committee seats held by pan-democrats would not amount to a critical minority. The pan-democrats would only be able to get a maximum of one-sixth of the 1,200 seats, Ng predicted. A candidate needs at least 601 votes to win the race. 'Allowing Leung and Tang to contest the election will raise legitimacy for the final winner,' Ng said. Political commentator Allen Lee Peng-fei said the election would differ from previous races as there would be intense competition within the pro-establishment camp. 'No one's leading now,' Lee said. A person familiar with Exco's operation said the council would need to appoint a new convenor following Leung's departure because it had to co-ordinate the work of non-official members. Veteran Exco members Ronald Arculli and Charles Lee Yeh-kwong are front runners to become the next convenor. Executive councillor Laura Cha Shih May-lung said it was up to the chief executive to decide whether there was a need to fill the post vacated by Leung. 'The Exco convenor serves as a spokesman for non-official members, and logistics are handled by the Exco secretariat. I don't see that the workload of other members would significantly increase following Mr Leung's resignation,' she said. Cha said the next chief executive should have the political courage to make tough and unpopular decisions which would benefit Hong Kong's long-term development.