Double trouble for CY Leung? John Tsang announces possible bid for Hong Kong’s top job soon after Jasper Tsang does the same

Duo’s remarks on joining chief executive race appear uncoordinated but confirm political observers’ suspicions that they would be top contenders for job

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 July, 2016, 9:27am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2016, 3:03pm

Hong Kong’s choices for a new chief executive next March expanded dramatically yesterday when not one but two popular figures – Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and retiring Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing – declared they were prepared to take on incumbent Leung Chun-ying for the city’s top job.

The double trouble their ambitions could pose to Leung’s strong chances of securing a second term appeared to be uncoordinated but confirmed observers’ suspicions that they could be among the top contenders for the job.

Political analysts said while the duo’s separate declarations of intent could put the heat on Leung as he decides on a re-election bid for next March, it would also take some pressure off Beijing loyalists preparing for the Legco polls in September. Pro-establishment hopefuls had struggled when asked in public if they supported Leung for another five years.

The first political bombshell of the day was dropped by Jasper Tsang in an early morning RTHK interview.

“If no one else really wants to run, and if it turns out it is both necessary and possible for me to stand as a candidate to offer a genuine choice – at least to the election committee – then I will consider that,” Tsang told the station, expressing hope there would be a genuine competition un the leadership race next year.

The drama continued as the retiring Legco president attended a Commercial Radio programme next to share his views on the chief executive race. An hour later, the station broadcast a pre-recorded interview with John Tsang, in which the financial secretary said for the first time that he was “willing to take up the job as chief executive if it can help to contribute to ­society”.

Asked why he had repeatedly denied such an ambition in the past, John Tsang replied: “I did not say that. If it contributes to Hong Kong, I am willing to do it ... But you all know that it is a bad job, and it is difficult to do because all chief executives are bound to be criticised.”

Looking at what the potential challenge would mean for the incumbent chief executive, City University political scientist Professor Ray Yep Kin-man said: “Leung would feel some pressure because of the pair’s comments ... as they showed Beijing has yet to make a decision on next year’s race.”

Tam Yiu-chung, former chairman of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said his party would support its founding chairman Jasper Tsang, should he decide to run. The DAB accounts for an eighth of the 1,200-strong committee which elected Leung in 2012.

Leung did not respond to the pair’s comments, instead using his blog yesterday afternoon to reiterate his pledge to increase housing supply, a key election issue for the public.

Hang Lung Properties chairman Ronnie Chan Chi-chung, sprang to Leung’s defence. “I don’t think anyone else could have cooled down property prices like Leung ... If you are a miser and don’t plan for ­tomorrow, there is no future [for the city], ” he said.

The “miser” reference was see as a veiled attack on the financial secretary, who has often been accused of being too stingy in his spending policies.

While no one has officially confirmed their intention to run for the top job, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is also seen as a potential candidate, while New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is widely tipped to join the race. Both refused to comment yesterday.

The candidates’ pool for next year’s leadership election is still a guessing game, but some of the names being floated around have kept up the ­speculation with their campaign-style public ­comments.