Regina Ip, Hong Kong’s former security chief, failed to muster enough nominations to enter the race to be the city’s next leader, losing her bid to stand as an alternative to the scandal-hit Henry Tang.
“Though we’ve tried very hard to gain support in the last few days, ultimately we didn’t have enough votes,” Ip, 61, told reporters today as the nomination period closed. Her failure means Tang, the front runner, will face off against former government adviser Leung Chun-ying and lawmaker Albert Ho.
The run-up to the March 25 election, when a 1,200-member committee will select Hong Kong’s next chief executive, has highlighted a growing divide between the rich and the rest of the city in the leadership they want. Tang’s popularity sank after he blamed his wife for building a basement twice the size of most homes in the city without government permits.
Ip “has a lot of support among the public, but unfortunately our system isn’t one-man, one-vote,” said Emily Lau, a lawmaker from the Democratic Party of Hong Kong.
Tang, 59, has refused to heed public calls to quit the contest after securing 390 nominations from business executives including Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest man. Leung, the preferred candidate in public opinion polls, has got 305.
‘It was close, but not close enough,” Ip said after failing to get the minimum 150 nominations needed. “I think it’s a shame. I have received much support from my supporters.”
Selection by Committee
Since the British handover to China in 1997, the city of 7.1 million has picked its leader through an election committee comprising of executives, civic, labor and professional group delegates, lawmakers and representatives to China’s political bodies. Two-thirds of Hong Kong people polled by the South China Morning Post this month said Tang, a former chief secretary, should quit the race after he admitted knowing about the basement he said was built by his wife.
“The scandal surrounding Tang was a blow to his popularity, and people are concerned with how he can govern,” said Ma Ngok, an associate professor in political science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The key is the Hong Kong businessmen on the committee who I believe don’t want to see Leung get elected.”
Ip has questioned Tang’s integrity, and said she wanted to offer the election committee more choice by standing. She left government in 2003 after 500,000 people took to the streets in protest at her attempt to introduce an anti-subversion law. She founded the New People’s Party in 2010.
Ip, who declined to say how many nominations she received, said she didn’t have enough time after only declaring her intention to run on Feb. 20.
The election’s outcome may hinge on China’s government, which hasn’t formally made any preference known. This will be the last time the city’s chief executive is picked by committee, because China has pledged to permit universal suffrage in 2017.
Tang has the backing of the businessmen on the committee, including Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd. Chairman Li, Henderson Land Development Co. Chairman Lee Shau Kee, and Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. Co-Chairman Thomas Kwok.
Tang’s popularity dropped after newspapers, including Apple Daily and the South China Morning Post, reported that the basement contained a wine cellar, movie theater and gym. The government has started an investigation.
Leung, a policeman’s son, has promised to speed the construction of public housing and alleviate poverty. Among his supporters are Hang Lung Properties Ltd. Chairman Ronnie Chan, Shui On Land Ltd. Chairman Vincent Lo and Bank of East Asia Ltd. Deputy Chairman Arthur Li.
Lawmaker Ho has also filed to join the race with 188 nominations. He’s pledged to put in place a retirement fund, improve health care and adopt stricter guidelines on pollution.
The candidates need to get at least half of the 1,200 votes on March 25 to be chief executive. A new election will be held if a winner doesn’t emerge after two rounds of voting.