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Legislative Council by-election 2018

Hong Kong pan-democrat sees Legco by-election slim hopes worsen over illegal structures

Analyst says Paul Zimmerman faced uphill battle in March 11 poll even before news surfaced that, like the justice secretary, his home had extra amenities

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 February, 2018, 8:43pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 February, 2018, 10:26am

The controversy surrounding ­illegal structures at homes ­belonging to Hong Kong public figures has not only ensnared the justice minister but also a Legislative Council hopeful, whose already slim by-election hopes have been damaged further as a result.

On Tuesday, the Lands Department said it found that by-election candidate Paul Zimmerman’s house in Sai Kung included a 24 sq m platform with lighting facilities. It – and other illegal structures on the rooftop – were built before Zimmerman bought the property in 2006.

The department demanded Zimmerman remove the lighting within 14 days.

Running to represent Legco’s architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector, Zimmerman admitted he had decided in 2008 not to remove the unauthorised structures on the rooftop, including a canopy, stone bench, boiler room, cabinet and glass balustrade. He apologised after the illegal structures were reported in local media.

His embarrassing predicament followed that of Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, who was found to have 10 illegal structures at her homes.

It’s unbelievable he did not handle [the illegal structures] well before signing up [to run]
Ivan Choy, political analyst

“I don’t think it ruins me,” Zimmerman said on Wednesday of the controversy. “I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic ... just leave it up to voters who are all professionals.”

The Southern district councillor added he had removed the lighting facilities within 10 minutes after receiving the department’s phone call on Tuesday. And he said all the rooftop amenities would be removed by the end of next month.

Zimmerman, a long-time urban development activist, believed his vision, creativity and ability to unite different people were his advantages over his rival, former lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen. Tse is a newly appointed delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the mainland’s top advisory body.

Tse was quick to seize on Zimmerman’s situation, airing the revelation on social media with a mocking caption: “I finally learned what is meant by ‘more than a profession’.”

Political analyst Ivan Choy Chi-keung believed the pan-democrat’s bid had suffered.

“His problem-solving skills were no better than Teresa Cheng’s,” Choy said of Zimmerman. “It’s unbelievable he did not handle [the illegal structures] well before signing up [to run], with Cheng’s issues just coming to light beforehand.”

City’s embattled justice chief let off the hook as pan-dems back down on illegal structures scandal

Even without the news, Zimmerman faced a tough battle, according to earlier polls.

The two candidates seek to fill the seat vacated by Edward Yiu Chung-yim, who was ousted from Legco along with five other pro-democracy lawmakers after the High Court ruled they did not take their oaths of office properly in 2016. Yiu had made history as the first pan-democrat to win the functional seat.

With a base of supporters that stands below 50 per cent and only one rival from the pro-establishment bloc, Zimmerman’s only hope would be if discord opened within the pro-Beijing camp, Choy said.

One in four Hong Kong properties has illegal structures, but most owners get away with their misdeeds

Hong Kong voters go to the polls on March 11 to fill Yiu’s vacancy and others for geographical constituencies on Hong Kong Island as well as in Kowloon West and New Territories East.

In a shift, Tse on Wednesday said he did not want to comment further on Zimmerman’s travails, stressing it was time for the city to move on.

“Hong Kong’s development has remained stagnant,” Tse added. “Politicising everything doesn’t do us any good.”