Asia’s wealthiest man endorses Tang

Coming after a week in which the leadership of People’s Republic of China seemed to indicate that Hong Kong’s next chief executive should be the man who commands overwhelming public support, Leung Chun-ying, one of two vaguely pro-Beijing candidates in the three-person March 25 race for Hong Kong’s next chief executive, Li Ka-shing, Asia’s wealthiest man, has endorsed the one-time frontrunner, businessman Henry Tang, Leung’s opponent. 

Tang has long been thought to be the favorite of Hong Kong’s local development and business elite, and Li’s public support may sway undecided local Hong Kong players to support Tang, whose one-time inevitability has eroded in the face of lackluster campaigning skills, charges of infidelity, a swarm of bad publicity over building an unapproved basement in his current building (and blaming the illicit building project on his wife) and scandal engulfing the current chief executive, Donald Tsang.

Li’s endorsement, which follows comments from Chinese premier Wen Jiabao last week that Hong Kong should result in a leader who has the support of the “vast majority” of the people in Hong Kong, sets up a dynamic that pits a candidate backed by local developers (Tang) against another candidate (Leung) now seen to be favored by Beijing over Tang. 

The election is not a true election, but just a vote of the 1,200-member Election Committee.  Trailing far behind Tang and Leung is Albert Ho, a pro-democracy candidate with little support from either local developers or Beijing.  If no candidate wins over 50% of the vote on Sunday, a second vote will be held in May, in which additional candidates may run — China-watchers, however, believe that such a second round is highly disfavored by Beijing, which wants the unexpectedly raucous campaign to end as soon as possible.

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