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February 23rd, 2012:

Big guns line up for Tang

An analysis of the nominations pledged in support of the embattled front runner shows that the rich are – mostly – sticking by their man, despite the growing scandals

Tanna Chong 
Feb 23, 2012

Three of the city’s leading tycoon families have thrown their full support behind embattled chief executive candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen, although many have hedged their bets should his arch rival, Leung Chun-ying, win the Election Committee’s vote next month.

Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, has pledged his nomination as well as the four held by his Cheung Kong (Holdings) (SEHK: 0001) and Hutchison Whampoa (SEHK: 0013) companies on Tang, the former chief secretary who won 378 nominations on Monday.

British Jardine Matheson Holdings and Sino Group also backed Tang to the hilt, contributing five and three votes by it chiefs and various subsidiaries respectively, including the chiefs of both groups, Jardine’s Anthony Nightingale and Sino’s Robert Ng Chee-siong.

An analysis of 12 major property conglomerates – which account for at least 64 seats on the 1,200-member Election Committee – by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583announcementsnews) also found that three groups had given more than half of their nominations to Tang, while four gave only half.

Analysts said these crucial votes represented the interests who were backing Tang, and could be the reason the former chief secretary insisted on signing up early amid the growing scandals and the candidate’s slumping popularity figures.

These preferences seem at odds with the popular mood. The latest University of Hong Kong poll, commissioned by the South China Morning Post, found only 16 per cent of over 500 respondents preferred Tang, compared with 64 per cent for Leung; 66 per cent of respondents called on Tang to withdraw from the race.

While the 12 conglomerates analysed gave a total of 38 nominations for Tang, political scientist Ma Ngok said the tycoons’ support for Tang could have been greater, but for the scandals. “I believe some of the tycoons were committed before the outbreak of the illegal structure row surrounding Tang’s properties,” said Ma, of Chinese University. “That was why Tang signed up early, so that the tycoons cannot pull out.”

Despite the various proportions of nominations these conglomerates have designated for Tang, the chiefs of most of them were present in the list of nominators, including Sun Hung Kai Properties (SEHK: 0016)’ Raymond Kwok Ping-luen and Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, Henderson Land (SEHK: 0012)’s Lee Shau-kee and Peter Lee Ka-kit, New World Development’s Henry Cheng Kar-shun, and KWah Group’s Lui Che-woo.

Wharf Holdings (SEHK: 0004) chairman Peter Woo Kwong-ching was not included in the list of 378, but according to legislator Lam Tai-fai, a hardcore Tang supporter, Woo gave a belated nomination yesterday. That was the only one out of nine tickets from the Wharf group that went to Tang.

Ma added that these crucial tickets would have offered enough backing for Tang to seize the top job in March, but the situation had changed with the backlash over the scandal.

“These heavyweights are important voices that Beijing needs to value. But it is not like they have the biggest say,” said Ma. “Beijing has been assessing the various possibilities now, one of which is allowing [the Legco president], Tsang Yok-sing, to replace Tang. But if Beijing insists on having a particular person – even Leung – I cannot see how the tycoons can resist it.”

Only a couple of property developers have so far pledged support for Leung, the former Executive Council convenor, including Shui On Group chairman Vincent Lo Hong-sui and Hang Lung Properties (SEHK: 0101)’ Ronnie Chan Chichung.