Antony Leung Kam-chung has chance at chief executive job, says Frederick Ma Si-hang

Former minister hopes Antony Leung will join race to be chief executive in 2017, even though he has laughed off rumours that he will stand

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 5:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 12:43pm

Former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung "stands a chance" of becoming chief executive if he runs in 2017, ex-commerce minister Frederick Ma Si-hang said yesterday.

Ma's comments about his old university classmate were made barely two weeks after Leung scoffed at rumours that he would stand for the top job.

They also came a day before Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying sets off to Beijing for his annual duty visit.

The city's leader is expected to meet President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang separately tomorrow and brief them on the latest economic, social and political developments in Hong Kong.

These will include the five-month process - started earlier this month - to gather public opinion on political reform. The chief executive is widely expected to get a renewed round of support from state leaders.

But on the sidelines of a public event yesterday, Ma said: "If there is universal suffrage [for the top job in 2017], I believe many capable people will be contesting.

"I don't know who they will be, but I do hope that people, for example those committed to Hong Kong, someone like Leung Kam-chung, and many others that you may be familiar with, will come out to run."

Ma worked with Antony Leung at JPMorgan Chase. Leung - who is 62 next month and is married to mainland diving star Fu Mingxia - will stand down as Greater China chairman at the US-based Blackstone Group to join Hong Kong developer Nan Fung Group as its chief executive in February.

This has prompted speculation he wants to develop a higher profile in the city's public affairs.

Chinese language newspapers reported that Ma had pledged to be Leung's campaign director if he decided to run. But analysts were quick to point out that this did not mean Ma had lost faith in the government.

On November 30, Leung broke a 10-year silence on politics and said he hoped to see progress on political reform.

But he laughed off what he described as "creative" rumours about him teaming up with Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing to run in the next election for chief executive.

Tsang yesterday said Leung had told him he had no plans to run. And when Ma was asked whether Leung had told him otherwise, he replied: "No, he didn't, but I think if he stands for election, he has a chance."

He declined to elaborate further on Leung's suitability.

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said Leung's experience in public administration would be a strong card in his hand should he decide to run.

"I think he has also learnt a lesson from mishandling the crisis [10 years ago]," Choy said.

He was referring to an episode in 2003 when Leung bought a Lexus car just weeks before he increased taxes on new vehicles.

The controversy ended with Leung stepping down just two years after he was appointed financial secretary. Ma was secretary for financial services and the treasury when Leung quit.

The story was updated at 11.25am on Monday December 16 to correct the name of Antony Leung Kam-chung's wife. It should be Fu Mingxia, not Wu Minxia.