The race is on for Hong Kong's top job

Financial Secretary and outgoing Legislative Council president throw hats into the ring

The race is on for Hong Kong's top job as two men stepped forward yesterday to declare their interest in becoming the city's next Chief Executive next year.

Financial Secretary John Tsang, 65, threw his hat into the ring when he said in a pre-recorded radio interview broadcast yesterday that he is willing to take on the job if it can "help me contribute to society".

Just an hour earlier, outgoing Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang, 69, said he will consider running "if no one else really wants to run".

Both men had been coy about their candidacy when asked on previous occasions.

Yesterday's announcements have fuelled speculation that they have been given blessings by Beijing and that the central government is open to dropping incumbent Leung Chun Ying, who is unpopular in the city.

Candidates standing for the Chief Executive election, to be held in March next year, have to be vetted and approved by China.

GIVE BACK TO HONG KONG

(I am willing to take on the job if it can) help me contribute to society.

FINANCIAL SECRETARY JOHN TSANG, on his motive for wanting the top post.

Mr Leung, 61, has hinted that he is keen to run for a second term, but analysts say the Chinese top brass is worried about his unpopularity and that opposition parties are taking advantage of the widespread discontent to gain more support for the upcoming Legislative Council (Legco) elections in September.

IF THERE ARE NO OTHER CANDIDATES

(I will consider running) if no one else really wants to run.

OUTGOING LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL PRESIDENT JASPER TSANG, on his willingness to stand for election.

Yesterday's twin announcements are seen as a move by Beijing to create a more positive political atmosphere for the pro-establishment camp in the upcoming election.

Observers say a third possible contender could be Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who has risen through the ranks in the bureaucracy to become Hong Kong's No. 2 leader.

Professor Lau Siu Kai, vice-chair of Beijing-backed Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said news of the two Tsangs' willingness to run in the election would remove the pressure from pro-establishment quarters to respond to a now-viral slogan, "Anyone But CY" (Mr Leung).

"What's important is not whether they have Beijing's blessings, but that the Chinese government is testing the waters and seeing who will get more support by introducing competition. That will help Beijing make up its mind on who they want as the next Chief Executive," said Prof Lau.

"People will be more hopeful about Hong Kong's future and think that public opinion matters this time."

Observers said a third possible contender could be Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who has risen through the ranks in the bureaucracy to become Hong Kong's No. 2 leader.

All three are part of Hong Kong's establishment, but with different support bases.

Mr Jasper Tsang, who has been Legco's president for the past eight years, is also the founding chairman of the largest Beijing-loyalist party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

But the veteran politician has also won the respect of the pan-Democrats across the aisle for his even-handed treatment in the Chamber. He is known for his frank comments on the ills of the current electoral system.

Mr John Tsang is popular with the public and has been playing up his credentials as a "localist" who loves Hong Kong.

He is also regarded by the local business community as one who will not upset the apple cart.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'The race is on for HK's top job'. Print Edition | Subscribe