Tearful Hong Kong leader grilled over housing controversy

Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying reacts during a press conference in the Central Government office in Hong Kong on Sept 21, 2016.
Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying reacts during a press conference in the Central Government office in Hong Kong on Sept 21, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong's embattled leader Leung Chun Ying choked up during a public grilling Wednesday (Sept 21) over a housing controversy as questions remain whether China will support him for a second term.

It was the latest in a series of problems for the chief executive, who has been faced since he took office in 2012 with major political protests, a growing movement seeking independence from China and allegations of corruption.

Leung and finance secretary John Tsang - a potential rival for the leadership - faced a packed room of reporters for a publicly televised press conference to answer mounting questions over their links with a troubled public housing development.

The government has been accused of bowing to pressure from local politicians - who have a reputation as pro-establishment strongmen - over the project in the city's partly rural hinterland known as the New Territories.

Authorities decided to prioritise construction of 4,000 homes by displacing people in three villages, instead of developing a larger unoccupied site controlled by rural leaders which would yield 13,000 more flats.

Densely packed Hong Kong is badly short of public housing.

Leung denied any "collusion" between the government and rural leaders at the expense of local residents.

At the end of the hour-long press conference, he faltered and choked on his words.

"I really must thank my government colleagues, regardless of whether in public or private housing. Every little bit of our achievements did not come easily," he said, before abruptly leaving the room.

Leung, who is not known for showing emotion, was immediately criticised online.

"He had to resort to using this trick," said Kirstie Cheng on newspaper Apple Daily's website.

Others on social media accused him of "pretending" to cry.

Leung has seen his popularity wane since taking office, particularly after mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014 failed to win reform.

Their lack of success in achieving that goal has spawned a number of parties and politicians calling for more autonomy or even independence from Beijing.

Leung has also been questioned over a reported HK$50 million (S$8.8 million) payment from Australian engineering firm UGL related to his former senior role at a surveying firm, months before he took office.

He has denied any wrongdoing in a case which has been reported to the city's corruption bureau.

Leung's term ends in March and he has not confirmed whether he will put himself forward again. There is some speculation that current finance secretary Tsang is favourite to take over.