23 February 2019
Chief executive candidates (from left) Woo Kwok-hing, Carrie Lam and John Tsang field questions during their first debate on Sunday. Photo: Reuters
Chief executive candidates (from left) Woo Kwok-hing, Carrie Lam and John Tsang field questions during their first debate on Sunday. Photo: Reuters

CE rivals clash on education, political reform in first debate

The three candidates vying for Hong Kong’s top post engaged in heated exchanges on education, political reform and “white terror” in their first debate before the March 26 chief executive election.

Sunday’s debate was organized by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, which has dozens of members in the Election Committee that will choose the city’s next leader, and lasted about two hours, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports. Some 450 members of the union were in attendance.

Former chief secretary Carrie Lam said the city’s educational resources have been insufficient and it’s the responsibility of the person in charge of the government’s finance, referring to rival John Tsang, who was the financial secretary before he quit for the race.

She blamed Tsang’s “0-1-1″ initiative, which was aimed at saving costs for the government, for the low investment in education, and the resulting insufficiency in resources.

In response to Lam’s accusation, Tsang said the initiative was made to enhance government efficiency and it did not cut necessary expenditures but increased them instead.

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, another candidate in the race, criticized both Lam and Tsang for allegedly having ignored the low funding for education during the past five years but are now promising to add more to it for the sake of the election.

Union vice chairman Cheung Yui-fai, who is a member of the Election Committee, asked the three candidates about how they view the relaunch of the political reform that the lawmakers vetoed in June 2015. 

Lam said public nomination for Hong Kong chief executive is against Article 45 of the Basic Law, which states the method for selecting the chief executive should follow the principle of gradual and orderly progress, and the ultimate aim is the selection by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.

As such, Lam, who led government efforts in promoting the Beijing-endorsed political reform package last year, said she will deal with the issue by sticking to the provisions of the Basic Law.

But Tsang said Lam doesn’t want to relaunch political reform because she doesn’t want to fail again.

Saying that a relaunch will meet most Hongkongers’ expectation, Tsang promised to conduct general consultations once he gets elected to gather the views of the public without setting any preset condition.

He said the aim is to achieve universal suffrage in the chief executive election five years later.

Woo stressed that Beijing’s political reform framework is not part of the Basic Law, public broadcaster RTHK reported.

If a reform package gets two-thirds majority support in the Legislative Council, it can be submitted to Beijing for consideration, he said.

Lam said after the debate that she is worried a rush move on political reform could only worsen divisions in society.’

On another issue, Election Committee member Roger Wong Hoi-fung asked the candidates about “white terror”, saying he was dismissed by the University of Hong Kong Council in 2014 for being a whistleblower on colleagues who allegedly faked research results.

Lam said it is one thing that she will never tolerate because she was also a victim herself.

Lam criticized netizens who left comments and personal attacks against actress Josephine Siao Fong-fong on social media after the latter posted a video online in support of her candidacy.

Tsang disagreed with Lam, saying netizens’ verbal attack online was not white terror but only reflected young people’s thinking.

Woo, on the other hand, supported the idea of protecting whistleblowers through legislation.

[Chinese version 中文版]

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