Former Hong Kong security chief Regina Ip has announced she will run in forthcoming elections for the city's chief executive amid growing calls for the withdrawal of Beijing's presumed favorite, Henry Tang.
Ip's move comes amid a scandal over a basement built illegally at a luxury property in Kowloon Tong owned by Tang's wife.
While Tang took responsibility for the breach of planning regulations, he has vowed to continue his campaign ahead of forthcoming elections, which are open only to a small cross-section of Hong Kong residents hand-picked by Beijing.
“I admit that I handled the family issues in a bad way,” said Tang, who admitted he knew about the basement, but didn’t intervene in his wife's plans owing to marital problems.
Tang has previously admitted that his wife has forgiven him for "a transgression," following media speculation that he had had an affair.
"My political platform is practical, and I hope to convince all that I’m the most suitable candidate," Tang told reporters, with Bank of East Asia Chairman David Li standing at his side. "Negative news will continue to revolve around me, but I will boldly face all this."
Some of Hong Kong's richest and most powerful businessmen are behind Tang, 59, including HSBC Holdings Plc’s Asia head Peter Wong and former Hong Kong Monetary Authority Chief Executive Joseph Yam.
Tang's nomination was supported by Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest man, and Lee Shau Kee, the chairman of Henderson Land Development Co, according to local media reports.
'How many more scandals?'
Pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said Tang no longer has any basis for his candidacy, and called for his withdrawal.
"Perhaps ... he should go home and work out how many more scandals are likely to see the light of day, and decide whether or not he can stand it," Lee said.
"If he can't stand it, then he had better withdraw his candidacy early on."
Ip registered her candidacy this week, with the backing of 379 people on the 1,200-member election committee, saying that she wanted to give the people of Hong Kong "more choice."
"As Mr. Tang continues to run for the election despite his low popularity because of his integrity problem, I decide to take part in the race," Ip told reporters.
"I want to offer another choice to Hong Kong people," said Ip, whose deeply unpopular anti-subversion law sparked mass demonstrations of around 500,000 people in 2003, and was followed by her departure from office.
Pro-democracy candidate and rights lawyer Albert Ho said the row over Tang's basement was a storm in a teacup amid a closed electoral system.
"If we had one person, one vote, then Henry Tang would never have run in the first place," Ho said.
Legislative Council chairman Jasper Tsang has said he is still considering whether or not to join the race for the territory's top job.
Polls show a drop in approval
Local media polls show Tang's approval ratings, which were already lagging behind those of rival candidate Leung Chun-ying, took a sharp dip following his admission over the basement, with some polls indicating that more than half of Hong Kong residents think he should now withdraw altogether.
According to Hong Kong media reports, the basement at the family home, which is held in the name of Tang's wife Lisa Kuo, included a wine-tasting room, gym, and Japanese-style bath.
Tang, a wine lover, said last week the room was used for storage.
A recent opinion poll commissioned by the English-language South China Morning Post newspaper showed 51.3 percent of respondents think Tang should withdraw, while 79.5 per cent said the incident reflected poorly on his integrity.
A separate poll by Hong Kong University showed Tang’s approval rating fell 4.8 percentage points to 21.3 percent last week, while Leung was backed by 49 percent of respondents.
Meanwhile, Liberal Party honorary chairman James Tien said the party won't back Tang if his ratings continue to be low.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.