Beijing 'Nervous' Over Hong Kong Poll

Pro-democracy groups vow protests on Sunday to push for universal suffrage.
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Leung Chun-ying (l) speaks as the other chief executive candidates Albert Ho (c) and Henry Tang (r) look on at a forum in Hong Kong, March 12, 2012.
Leung Chun-ying (l) speaks as the other chief executive candidates Albert Ho (c) and Henry Tang (r) look on at a forum in Hong Kong, March 12, 2012.

China has now changed its mind over its preferred candidate in the race to become the chief executive of Hong Kong, according to local sources and media reports, with Beijing sending a top official to hold meetings with the 1,200 voters who will choose the territory's next leader in Sunday's poll.

The election committee, which is stacked with tycoons, politicians, and other public figures loyal to Beijing, will choose between candidates Henry Tang and Leung Chun-ying, both of whose campaigns have been tainted by scandal.

Beijing, which formerly hinted at support for Tang, now appears to favor Leung, sources say.

Tang and Leung took vicious aim at each other in a televised public debate this week, although both are elite political insiders with close ties to Beijing.

Democratic lawmaker Albert Ho is also formally in the running, but is believed to have no chance of victory in a race which is essentially decided in Beijing.

Meanwhile, civil groups and political activists have vowed to demonstrate at the weekend amid widespread outrage at a perceived lack of integrity in both candidates.

Meetings held

A source familiar with the committee confirmed on Wednesday that Liu Yandong, a member of the ruling Communist Party's Politburo and member of the State Council, China's cabinet, had arrived in neighboring Shenzhen in recent days.

Liu had been holding meetings with members of the election committee, which must elect a candidate by at least 600 votes for a victory to be declared, the source told RFA's Cantonese service.

"The main purpose is to listen respectfully to people's opinions and to pass on the message that this election must be completed in one attempt," the source said.

Amid reports that some voters are considering turning in a blank ballot paper in protest at the scandals surrounding both Tang and Leung's candidacy, Beijing is keen to ensure that the process it insisted on in lieu of universal suffrage is seen to be working.

Ma Ngok, politics professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the fact that Chinese officials see a need to canvas for votes shows how worried Beijing is about the outcome of Sunday's poll.

"There is still a lot of canvassing going on, even right down to the last minute," Ma said. "This proves that they are nervous about this election, and that the central government believes it can't entirely rely on [some] committee members."

"So now they are ceaselessly on the campaign trail, so as to be sure that C.Y. Leung is elected smoothly with a large majority," he said.

Hints of support

The source close to the election committee said that Chinese officials never give outright advice to voters who call them, however.

"As for [Beijing's] Liaison Office [in Hong Kong], a lot of [voters] have been getting in touch with them, but they never actually mention a candidate by name," he said.

In the early part of the campaign, officials simply commented to election committee members that "experience is important," suggesting that Tang, who until last year served as head of Hong Kong's civil service, was the preferred option.

"Recently their statements have changed to include the phrase 'someone who is acceptable to everybody,'" the source said, suggesting that Beijing is now backing Leung.

Tang's campaign has been marred by a scandal over an illegal basement extension to his home and rumors of marital infidelity, while Leung is under investigation over allegations of conflict of interest.

Incumbent Donald Tsang has also been slammed in the local media in recent weeks for taking favors from local tycoons, including trips on private jets.

'Voting in my own way'

Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, has pledged continuing support for Tang following a meeting with Vice-President Xi Jinping at which he is reported to have been asked to change his mind.

However, no election committee member has openly admitted to having contact with Chinese officials over the vote.

Rita Fan, former security chief and delegate to the National People's Congres (NPC) in Beijing, said "some people" might draw the conclusion from media reports that they should support Leung.

"This doesn't necessarily mean that it will influence the results of the election, however," Fan said.

"The election of the chief executive of Hong Kong is our business, Hong Kong's business, and the Party Central Committee has already made it clear that it finds both Henry Tang and C.Y. Leung acceptable."

"I will be voting in my own way," Fan added.

Meanwhile, movie director See-yuen Ng, who initially nominated Tang, was interviewed by local media outside the Liaison Office.

Asked if he was there to discuss the poll, Ng said he was there on business linked to the Beijing Film Festival: "No, no," he told reporters. "We are filmmakers, and we never listen to what anyone else says."

Popular anger over Beijing's unwillingness to allow elections through universal suffrage is likely to find expression on the streets, with more than 30 groups vowing to stage protests on Sunday.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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