Hong Kong hanky panky

Hong Kong hanky panky

There are few places in this hemisphere, aside from Australia, where citizens scorn their leaders with such fervour as they do in Hong Kong.

The fact that the territory’s 7.1 million people have one of the world’s most effective governments only makes their contempt all the more admirable.

In normal times, they reserve their jaundiced views about local politicians for when they are taking a break from more important matters, like eating, drinking and making money.

Not this year though.

The heated public discourse about the three candidates in the March 25 election for a new Hong Kong chief executive is relentless and all-pervasive.

It is hardly surprising, given that the sensational revelations about the contenders would be perfect fodder for a steamy Hong Kong movie full of influence peddling, illicit sex and other hanky panky.

For starters, the territory’s aggressive media has recently revealed that illegal construction work has taken place at the family home of the leading candidate, former chief secretary Henry Tang.

The work involved expanding Tang’s basement into a 200-square-metre recreation area that includes fitness and changing rooms, a cinema and a wine-tasting lounge.

Nothing outranks property issues in jam-packed Hong Kong, and Tang’s extensive basement folly – twice the size of more than 90 per cent of the territory’s homes – provoked outrage.

He later claimed it was his wife’s idea and that while he knew the work was illegal, he kept quiet in order to maintain a semblance of marital harmony.

To put it mildly, that is an area Tang, 59, needs to work on. Already, he has admitted to a couple of extramarital affairs and has reportedly fathered an illegitimate child.

As a result, there have been widespread calls for him to withdraw from the race.

But as the candidate favoured by Hong Kong’s real masters in Beijing, and with the crucial support of local billionaires like Li Ka-shing and Lee Shau-kee, Tang has insisted he is not pulling out.

His poll numbers, however, have suffered badly. At one time, he was running 30 percentage points ahead of his strongest opponent, Leung Chun-ying, a surveyor and former government adviser.

As a policeman’s son, Leung has been able to reach out to plain folks who are upset at Hong Kong’s yawning wealth gap, whereas the well-heeled Tang, a textile magnate’s son, has trouble connecting with the middle-class.

And now, with his campaign mired in scandal, Tang has not only fallen behind Leung, but even Beijing has turned lukewarm on his candidature and has extended its approval to Leung.

It was not unexpected since mainland leaders have always said the territory’s next CE must be patriotic to both Beijing and Hong Kong, as well as able to govern and win public support.

Still, Tang has not given up and recently he asserted that all his scandals were now out in the open and were personal matters that did not impede his work.

In contrast, he said his rival lacked administrative experience and had committed more serious offences, such as a conflict of interest allegation when Leung helped choose a municipal arts centre 12 years ago.

The charge is an old potato unlikely to sprout any gains for Tang, who now trails Leung by more than 33 percentage points and is barely ahead of the third contender, outsider Albert Ho.

As the Democratic Party’s candidate, Ho advocates greater openness and the early introduction of a one-man, one-vote system. He has no chance under the current election process.

Of course, it is a misnomer to call it an election, since the victor will be chosen by a 1,200-member committee (about 0.01 per cent of Hong Kong’s population), comprising mostly businessmen and professionals.

Beijing has, however, agreed to allow universal suffrage for the next election in 2017, and if that pledge is honoured, then the likes of Ho are likely to prevail over privileged elites like the tainted Tang.

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