Chief executive contender John Tsang has promised to make the contentious issues of political reform and a China-backed national security Bill his priorities if he wins the top job next month.
Unveiling his election platform yesterday, the former financial secretary said it is for "society's stability and good governance" that he seeks to restart the process of political reform, to look at giving more Hong Kongers a say in electing the chief executive.
The 65-year-old also vowed to enact Article 23 - which will ban acts of treason and subversion against the Chinese government.
Plans to pass the controversial Bill drew half a million protesters to the streets in 2003 and led to the resignation of fellow chief executive contender Regina Ip, who was then security chief. The Bill was eventually shelved.
At a press conference yesterday, Mr Tsang stressed that it was urgent to restart the process of political reform and legislation of Article 23 before the current Legislative Council term ends in 2020.
KEY ELEMENTS OF JOHN TSANG'S ELECTION PLATFORM
Examine feasibility of introducing a progressive profits tax and "negative income tax".
Move on with rule-based operations, procedural justice, enhanced transparency.
PLANNING AND HOUSING
• Better use of deserted agricultural land through integrated planning.
• Speed up redevelopment of aged public housing.
• Address small house issues in New Territories flexibly and examine the feasibility of building multi-storey blocks or estates with mixed small houses and home-ownership flats.
• Promote yuan as currency for reserve and settlement.
• Develop high-end logistics industry.
KEY ELEMENTS OF CARRIE LAM'S ELECTION PLATFORM
Adopt new philosophy towards public finance to let the public get share of the fruits of economic development.
Create new trend of governance with public engagement.
Step up land development and housing construction.
Diversify the economy, boost new industries such as innovation and technology.
His comments marked a turnaround from his remarks last month when he said it would be irresponsible for the administration to restart political reform if the political climate in Hong Kong remains the same. But he told reporters yesterday that his comments were not really different.
Analysts saw the U-turn by Mr Tsang as a bid to win the support of Beijing, with chief executive rival Carrie Lam widely seen as Beijing's choice for the job.
In a 72-page election manifesto released on his website yesterday, Mr Tsang wrote: "We will learn from the past mistakes and do our best to legislate for Article 23 with a view to safeguarding the security of our country and Hong Kong, and making a law acceptable to the people of Hong Kong."
He also vowed to put in place "dual universal suffrage" - where the chief executive and legislature members are elected by universal suffrage - as soon as practicable.
Currently, an election committee chooses the chief executive.
Mr Tsang, who pledged to reach out to different groups, said he was aware of how hard it was to achieve consensus.
"But I believe if we could formulate a CE (chief executive) election plan which is acceptable to different quarters, that will be a big step forward for Hong Kong's political system, and both Hong Kong people and the 'one country, two systems' will be winners. On the other hand, both will be losers if we stand still and do nothing," he said.
Two others in the running for chief executive - Mrs Ip, 66, and retired judge Woo Kwok Hing, 70 - had also shown support for the controversial Article 23 when they released their manifestos earlier.
But Mrs Lam, 59, has said there is no hurry to push for political reform and Article 23.
She said during a RTHK TV programme last week she did not want to lead Hong Kong down the path of more confrontation and tension.
"On constitutional development, I was the person in charge of 20 months of intense debate on giving people one man, one vote in selecting the next chief executive. We failed on that count," she said.
In what is seen as a bid to win the votes of the pan-democrats, Mr Tsang promised to improve the government's accountability and implement major changes to government structure, housing and education.
He also vowed to help the poor by studying the feasibility of a negative income tax, under which the low-income group need not pay tax and may get an allowance.
On Saturday, pan-democrats, who hold more than a quarter of the 1,194 votes in the March 26 polls, will meet to discuss the election.