After ‘palace’ scandal, poll is more bad news for would-be HK leader


HONG KONG — The fraying election hopes of China’s reported favorite to become the next leader of Hong Kong were dealt another blow Sunday with a poll showing most citizens think he should quit the race. The University of Hong Kong survey heaped more pressure on Henry Tang, whose campaign was thrown into disarray last week by the discovery of an illegal underground leisure space in a house belonging to his wife.

The wealthy Tang, who many believe is Beijing’s preferred candidate to become Hong Kong’s next chief executive, admitted that he knew about the unauthorized structure, but blamed his wife for coming up with the idea. The poll carried out Thursday and Friday at the height of the scandal found 51.3 percent of the 516 people surveyed thought Tang should abandon his campaign. “All figures show that Tang’s scandal has taken a big toll on his credibility, it may be unwise for him to stay in the race,” poll director Robert Chung told the Sunday Morning Post, which commissioned the survey. “There is no doubt that public anger is on the rise. I personally do not find any effective damage control taken by Tang, so I still think the worst is yet to come.”

The pressure on Tang intensified on Saturday when Hong Kong authorities said they were investigating his wife, Lisa Kuo, over the unauthorized basement den covering 2,250 square feet (209 square meters) built at her home. But the former chief secretary in the southern banking center has refused to quit the race, saying he could still win the support of the 1,200-member Electoral Committee that will select the new leader on March 25.

The body is packed with pro-Beijing elites and businessmen who have thrown their support behind Tang despite his gaffe-prone campaign and opinion polls showing he trails his main rival, Leung Chun-ying, by a wide margin.

Tang’s campaign got off to a shaky start when he was forced to publicly admit to cheating on Kuo, who has given him unwavering support throughout.

Analysts say Beijing has been put in a difficult bind of apparently backing a candidate who would appear to have no hope of winning a genuinely democratic election in the semi-autonomous southern city of seven million people.

Candidates have until February 29 to formally nominate, leaving Beijing little time to send another proxy into the contest, they say.

The University of Hong Kong pollsters said the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.