News24

Hong Kong leader declares candidacy

2012-02-20 16:00

Hong Kong - China's reported favourite to become the next leader of Hong Kong on Monday presented his candidacy for next month's election, ignoring his plunging popularity ratings and pressure to step aside.

Henry Tang submitted his nomination papers amid a blaze of media lights just days after revelations of an illegal underground den at his wife's upmarket house threw his campaign into disarray.

The scion of a wealthy family was widely believed to have Beijing's backing to replace outgoing leader Donald Tsang as Hong Kong's chief executive, until last week's scandal blew the race wide open.

Tang on Thursday admitted he knew about the illegal underground entertainment area in an upmarket home he shares with his wife, Lisa Kuo, but blamed her for ordering its construction without his permission.

"I admit there are many negative issues about me recently ... All of them are related to my family," he told reporters after formally presenting his nomination papers.

"I admit I didn't handle them well. I wanted to protect [my family] but it hurts them even more and people are questioning my credibility."

Confession

He said he expected more "negative news" and promised to face it "bravely", a possible reference to rumours published in the media on Monday that he had dated the young daughter of a local politician.

Tang's campaign started late last year with a public admission that he had cheated on Kuo, his wife of 27 years. He has also been criticised for avoiding debates with his opponents and delaying the release of his policy plans.

But the 59-year-old brushed off the criticism, saying he wanted to focus on his "experience, ideas and manifesto" rather than his personal problems and political missteps.

"I won't give up. I hope everyone will support me and give me a chance to serve Hong Kong," Tang added.

A University of Hong Kong opinion poll released on Sunday showed 51.3% of the 516 people surveyed thought Tang should abandon his campaign.

"All figures show that Tang's scandal has taken a big toll on his credibility, it may be unwise for him to stay in the race," poll director Robert Chung told the Sunday Morning Post, which commissioned the survey.

Second candidate

"There is no doubt that public anger is on the rise. I personally do not find any effective damage control taken by Tang, so I still think the worst is yet to come."

Tang was the second candidate to submit his nomination papers after Albert Ho, from the pro-democracy camp. Tang's main rival, Leung Chun-ying, the front-runner in opinion polls, has yet to nominate himself.

The nomination period ends on February 29.

Public opinion counts for little under Hong Kong's "One Country Two Systems" arrangement with mainland China, whereby the former British colony enjoys broad freedoms but does not get to choose its own leader by popular vote.

The chief executive is chosen by a 1 200-member electoral committee packed with pro-Beijing social and business elites.