New Hong Kong Leader Faces Legal Questions
Sunday March 13, 2005 4:31 AM
By WILLIAM FOREMAN
Associated Press Writer
HONG KONG (AP) - Hong Kong's new acting leader took
office Saturday, facing tough questions of whether the
leadership change was legal.
The legal controversy began brewing two weeks ago as
it became clear that the unpopular Tung Chee-hwa was
preparing to quit as chief executive. The plan was to
allow Tung's right-hand man, Donald Tsang, take over
until a new leader was elected.
Tung's resignation became official Saturday, marking
Hong Kong's first leadership change since the former
British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Tsang
promptly announced that he would be in charge until a
new leader was elected on July 10.
Tsang also confirmed the fears of pro-democracy
lawmakers by saying that the elected leader would only
complete Tung's term by serving two years and that a
new election would be held as scheduled in 2007.
Pro-democracy lawmakers and the Hong Kong Bar
Association have argued during the past week that the
law clearly says that any elected chief executive
serves a full five-year term. They fear that China was
pressuring the government to twist the law for
Beijing's purposes, endangering Hong Kong's legal
integrity - one of the territory's strong points.
One popular theory was that Chinese leaders want Tsang
- a career civil servant - to serve for two years so
they can test his loyalty. If he does well, he would
get a five-year term. Hong Kong's leaders are picked
by an 800-person panel dominated by pro-Beijing
During his first news conference Saturday, Tsang noted
the controversy. ``We understand that there are
different views in the community,'' he said.
Tsang added that after doing research and consulting
with legal experts in China, the government concluded
that the proper interpretation of the law was that the
next elected chief executive would serve a two- year
``If there is any challenge at all, we will meet that
challenge,'' he said.
Pro-democracy lawmakers and groups have yet to
announce if or how they might challenge the decision.
The possible legal battle is just one of many problems
Tsang will likely encounter. He might have to contend
with back-stabbing Cabinet members vying for his job.
``If he can't carry out a major reshuffle in the
Cabinet, can he gain other ministers' confidence and
secure their loyalty to him?'' asked Ivan Choy, a
political analyst at the Chinese University.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers who have long distrusted Tsang
because he worked for the British colonial government
might try to thwart his policies to help their own
chief executive hopefuls. The economy is facing
serious competition from booming cities in southern
But many believe Tsang is an ambitious politician
who's up for the political fisticuffs. He was a
policeman's son without a university degree when he
joined the civil service in 1967 during British rule.
He went to Harvard University in 1981 for a one-year
master's degree in public administration.
He was promoted to financial secretary in 1995,
becoming the first ethnic Chinese to hold the job in
150 years of British rule.
In the final month of British rule, Tsang was named a
knight of the British Empire for his work as a civil
servant. Prince Charles did the honors of tapping his
shoulders with a sword and hanging a medal on his
Many thought that the knighthood marked the peak of
Tsang's career because it raised serious doubts about
his loyalty to the new Chinese rulers. But Tsang
Ma Ngok, a politics professor at the University of
Science and Technology, said Tsang will likely resign
in May to run for chief executive and won't have time
to make many changes.
``He will act more like a guardian of the government.
There will unlikely be major policy changes,'' Ma told
Hong Kong network Cable TV.