Hong Kong fi­nance chief quits

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Hong Kong’s fi­nance chief re­signed yes­ter­day ahead of what is widely ex­pected to be a tilt at the city lead­er­ship. John Tsang-nick­named “Mr Pringles” by lo­cal me­dia for his re­sem­blance to the crisp brand’s mas­cot-is seen as a more mod­er­ate al­ter­na­tive to cur­rent leader Le­ung Chun-ying, who said Fri­day he would step down in July. The city has be­come sharply di­vided un­der Le­ung, whose term has been marked by anti-Beijing protests. Op­po­nents cast him as a pup­pet of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment squeez­ing the semi-au­ton­o­mous city’s free­doms. Tsang con­firmed to re­porters Mon­day evening that he had re­signed af­ter more than nine years, but stopped short of an­nounc­ing he would run for the lead­er­ship. “I shall think through this in the com­ing days and make an an­nounce­ment,” he said.

He used the op­por­tu­nity to thank the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment for their “sup­port and en­cour­age­ment” as well as the peo­ple of Hong Kong. Tsang re­capped how he had wit­nessed the city re­turned to “our moth­er­land” re­fer­ring to the han­dover of Hong Kong from Bri­tain to China in 1997. He also said that Hong Kong’s high de­gree of au­ton­omy had been “suc­cess­fully im­ple­mented”. The fi­nance sec­re­tary’s res­ig­na­tion is be­ing seen as a sig­nal that he will stand in the lead­er­ship elec­tions in March. Can­di­dates are not al­lowed to hold a gov­ern­ment of­fice if they want to stand for chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Al­though Tsang has a bet­ter pub­lic im­age than Le­ung, he is still an estab­lish­ment fig­ure. Pro-democ­racy cam­paign­ers have warned the next city leader will sim­ply be an­other Beijing yes-man as the vote sys­tem is skewed. The chief ex­ec­u­tive is cho­sen by an elec­toral com­mit­tee made up of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of spe­cial in­ter­est groups, weighted to­wards Beijing. Mass ral­lies in 2014 called for fully free lead­er­ship elec­tions, but failed to win con­ces­sions on re­form.

Spe­cial in­ter­est groups voted for mem­bers of the elec­tion com­mit­tee on Sun­day-of al­most 1,200 only around a quar­ter come from the pro-democ­racy camp. Spec­u­la­tion that Tsang would run for of­fice in­ten­si­fied last year af­ter China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping shook his hand dur­ing a meet­ing in Beijing. There was an­other hand­shake be­tween the two in Septem­ber at the G20 in Hangzhou. For­mer se­cu­rity min­is­ter and cur­rent se­nior law­maker Regina Ip is also ex­pected to an­nounce her can­di­dacy this week. Ip is hated by the pro-democ­racy camp for sup­port­ing con­tro­ver­sial anti-sub­ver­sion law Ar­ti­cle 23 when she was min­is­ter in 2003. It was dropped af­ter hun­dreds of thou­sands of res­i­dents protested.

How­ever, she has a strong sup­port group in the estab­lish­ment camp-in re­cent leg­isla­tive elec­tions Ip was one of the most pop­u­lar can­di­dates re­ceiv­ing 60,000 votes. Cur­rent gov­ern­ment num­ber two Car­rie Lam has also said she will con­sider run­ning. —AFP

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