Fri, Jun 03, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Tsang launches bid for HK's leadership

CAMPAIGN TRAIL The former No. 2 man said his goal was to win the hearts and conviction of the people -- not just the 800-member committee that will vote


Hong Kong's likely next leader said yesterday he wants to move toward full democracy gradually, echoing China's line on the matter and rejecting popular demands for quick democratic reform.

Donald Tsang (曾蔭權) said there isn't enough trust between Beijing and Hong Kong's people to set a timetable for direct elections in the territory.

``I think right now, to force a timetable [for democracy] is a very difficult,'' Tsang, Hong Kong's former No. 2 official, said in his first campaign news conference.

Hong Kongers have held large protests in recent years demanding popular elections, but China ruled out changes in the near term last year. Hong Kong's new leader will be picked by an 800-member committee loyal to China on July 10, and Tsang is the clear frontrunner.

Political analysts have also doubted Tsang's desire to fight for more democracy.

``He will be rather obedient to the central Chinese government,'' said James Sung (宋力功), a politics scholar at the City University of Hong Kong.

Sung said Tsang's hands are also tied by Hong Kong's economic dependence on China, which has bestowed the territory favors such as a free-trade deal.

Critics say Tsang's campaign for the leadership post is a political farce because of his expected victory. The leader selection committee is dominated by Beijing's local allies.

Tsang's two opponents -- an opposition party leader and an ex-convict legislator -- are considered long shots.

But Tsang said he didn't think the election was a charade. He said his goal wasn't just to win the approval of the leader selection panel, but also ``the hearts and conviction of the people of Hong Kong.''

Several activists protested outside the hotel where Tsang spoke, denouncing the electoral system, chanting, ``small-circle elections are beneath pigs and dogs.''

Other than appealing to the 800 voters, Tsang promised to campaign among the masses and take calls from regular citizens on radio shows. He stressed his humble beginnings.

``I'm an ordinary man from an ordinary home,'' he said, adding that before he joining the government he had been a pharmaceuticals salesman.

Tsang's reluctance to paint himself as a full-fledged democracy advocate will likely bolster his credibility with Beijing loyalists in Hong Kong, who are believed to doubt the former colonial official's allegiance to China.

Tsang was knighted for his service during Hong Kong's British rule.

Asked about his views on China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters occupying Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989, Tsang noted China's economic progress and that it had also benefited Hong Kong.

``I think ... analyzing this event from this perspective is more rational,'' he said.

Tsang served as acting leader until last week, covering for Tung Chee-hwa (董建華), who quit as chief executive in March citing poor health.

Tsang was barred from political campaigning as an official, so he tendered his resignation last week. China formally approved his resignation earlier yesterday, freeing him to launch his election bid.

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