First, I must declare my interests before I wade in and write about the chief executive election, which is getting increasingly contentious as it enters the home stretch. I personally know neither Henry Tang Ying-yen nor Leung Chun-ying, the two major hopefuls, nor do I have any preference for either of them. But the strange episode over their secretive visits to the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong last week, and the ensuing controversy over Tang's evasive response even though he was spotted meeting mainland officials, made interesting reading. It all started on Wednesday when Apple Daily was splashed with photos showing Leung was driven to the liaison office on Tuesday. This came two days after Leung and his supporters suffered a setback in voting for the Election Committee that will select our city's next leader. His supporters won only 58 seats, way short of 150, the minimum number of nominations required to stand. Meanwhile the number of people expected to vote for Tang is estimated to be at least 200, giving him a comfortable lead. But there are hundreds of Election Committee members who are yet to declare their position and most of them are likely to follow the direction of the central government. Given Beijing's decisive influence in the race, one imagines that Tang and Leung would have scrambled over each other to call upon the central government's liaison office and make sense of its thinking after the December 11 election. That is exactly what they did on Tuesday, except that neither wanted to talk about it, as if the whole idea that they had close relations with the liaison office would go away in the eyes of Hong Kong people. Even more bizarre is Tang's response when he was asked on Wednesday if he also went to the liaison office. He was seen visiting the office some time before Leung and he certainly read the newspaper report of Leung's visit on Wednesday morning before he went to a public function in which he and his aides certainly knew he would be grilled by reporters over the visit. His well-prepared reply, while smiling in front of TV cameras, was that he had no idea why Leung went there and he had no plan to visit the liaison office. Later on Wednesday, when more reporters got wind of Tang's visit, he had a new line, saying that he 'would not comment on private activities'. On Thursday, when reports from several Hong Kong newspapers, including this one, placed Tang in the liaison office on the same day as Leung, he was asked to clarify his previous remarks, and even whether he had told a lie. His reply was even more interesting, saying that in his previous replies, he had not said whether he had gone to the liaison office or not. When pressed further, he started to seek refuge in grammar, saying that when he said he had no plan to visit the office, it signalled a future tense. This episode is silly and unfortunate. Instead of giving a straight answer on the visit he was well expected to make anyway, Tang tried to fudge the issue. His indirect confirmation by labelling his visit as falling into the category of 'private activities' is equally unconvincing. The liaison office is hardly a place for private activities, certainly not for a chief-executive hopeful like him. It certainly makes many Hong Kong people wonder how he will explain the difficult issues to the public after he becomes our chief executive. Meanwhile, in the besieged village of Wukan, Guangdong, massive protests against a government land grab continued yesterday. There are suggestions that top officials in Guangdong and even in Beijing have become increasingly nervous as the stand-off between the police and angry villagers has lasted a week after the suspicious death of a protest leader in police custody, and it caught the attention of the international media. In one way, the conflict in Wukan is like thousands of other protests in the rest of country, but it is also different, because the protest started in September and was able to continue without a prompt government crackdown, which usually follows such protests. One possible reason is that the protests have been peaceful, giving the authorities no excuse to send in the police. Second, there have been suggestions that Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang , a strong contender for a slot in the central government leadership reshuffle next year, has recently advocated a mild approach in dealing with people voicing their grievances. Now a bigger question is whether the international coverage will force officials to take harsh measures to end the protest quickly for the sake of salvaging the national image. Let's hope not. The Wukan protesters are targeting corrupt local officials and are in fact calling on the provincial and central governments to investigate. Sending high-ranking officials to talk to the villagers and promise to address their grievances would surely help boost the government's image in the spotlight of the international media.