Hong Kong’s Leung Calls for End to Attacks in Leader Contest

Hong Kong chief executive candidate Leung Chun-ying called for an end to personal attacks in the contest to be the city’s next leader, saying the race has become mired in accusations.

“I have been continuously attacked by smear campaigns,” Leung, 57, said late yesterday in a televised address to the election committee picking the city’s next leader on March 25. “These actions should come to an end and we should bring the election back on track.”

The race to lead the city of 7.1 million people has seen increasing personal attacks between Leung and Henry Tang, a former chief secretary, with the two calling each other liars during a televised debate on March 16. Tang, beset by personal scandals including an admission of marital affair, is trailing Leung in opinion polls by more than 20 percentage points.

“This election has taken its toll on me, but still I insist on speaking the truth,” Tang said yesterday in his address, while inviting Leung to sue him. “I need to reveal the way CY Leung handles contradictory situations and crisis.’

Tang and Leung are the front-runners in the contest, having secured 390 and 305 nominations respectively from the election committee. Hong Kong picks its chief executive through the committee, which comprises of lawmakers, businessmen and delegates from professional groups.

China Backing

Beijing’s Liaison Office members in Hong Kong have been calling committee members to encourage them to vote for Leung, RTHK reported today, citing James Tien, the honorary chairman of the Liberal Party. China’s State Councilor Liu Yandong is meeting Hong Kong businessmen to persuade them to vote for Leung, the Sing Tao Daily reported today, without citing anyone.

Still, it’s not clear that China has indicated its preference for either Leung or Tang, said James Sung, a professor in politics at City University of Hong Kong.

‘‘The Liaison Office has been helping to build a positive image of Leung in the past six months,” Sung said by telephone today. “While the Hong Kong and Macau affairs Office is on the side of Tang. The central government’s decision won’t come until Friday or Saturday.”

Riot Police

Tang said last week that Leung had suggested Hong Kong would eventually need to use anti-riot police and tear gas on protesters in 2003. Leung reiterated yesterday that he didn’t make the suggestion during meetings held by Hong Kong’s executive council.

About 500,000 people took to the streets in 2003 to protest an anti-subversion law that critics said would curtail civil liberties, prompting the government to shelve the bill.

Tang said yesterday he instructed his lawyers to study whether any comments Leung had made were defamatory. Tang also said he has made a report to the Independent Commission Against Corruption without elaborating.

Tang, the son of a textile magnate, is backed by Li Ka- shing, Hong Kong’s richest man. Leung is favored by 42.6 percent of the 957 respondents polled by the Chinese University of Hong Kong on March 16, compared with 18.3 percent for Tang.

Public Opinion

Public opinion is starting to weigh on the contest after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said March 14 that the city “can elect a chief executive who is supported by the majority of the people.”

After the early exchanges yesterday, the candidates answered questions about their proposed education, health care, housing and social welfare policies. Lawmaker Albert Ho is the third candidate in the contest.

Tang’s popularity dropped after he said he knew about a basement built without planning permission at a property owned by his wife. In October, he confirmed having an affair. Election committee members who previously backed Tang have been less committal since the scandals came to light. Thomas Kwok, co- chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. (16), who nominated Tang, said Feb. 28 that his decision at election-time will depend on Tang’s public support.

On housing, Leung reiterated he wants to increase land supply to help residents gain home ownership. Tang said he plans to increase construction of public housing, and that he’s against a so-called “hegemony” of developers.

Home prices in the former British colony have tripled in the past decade, while the median monthly household income has remained almost unchanged at HK$20,000 ($2,580) since the city returned to China in 1997. That’s stoked public discontent and protests against developers including Li’s Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kelvin Wong in Hong Kong at kwong40@bloomberg.net; Marco Lui at mlui11@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hwee Ann Tan at hatan@bloomberg.net

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