HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong’s new leader Leung Chun-ying narrowly survived a motion of no-confidence on Wednesday over unauthorized building works in his home that have undermined his integrity and triggered calls for his resignation.
Beijing-backed Leung was criticized by pro-democracy lawmakers in a four hour debate for failing to give a clear account of building work in the hilltop mansion - something he in turn had seized upon to oust his rival Henry Tang, when both ran campaigns for Hong Kong’s chief executive post this year.
In space-starved Hong Kong, embellishments to homes are common to maximize living space, but similar violations have ensnared several prominent officials over the past year.
“He did not come clean, he did not tell us the whole truth and he was deliberately hiding things from us ... he has no integrity,” said pro-democracy opposition lawmaker Dennis Kwok who tabled the no-confidence motion.
In the end, 28 lawmakers backed the motion, 34 opposed it and five abstained.
The fraught vote caps a difficult half year for Leung who has wrestled with issues including high property prices, perceived interference from China over a national education curriculum, and grassroots resentment caused by a growing tide of Chinese visitors and pregnant mainland mothers cramming local maternity wards to gain local citizenship.
While there is no sign that Leung’s support from Beijing’s leaders has suffered as a result of the scandal, a planned “anti-Leung” mass protest on January 1 could heighten tension.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, remains a stable financial center, though its political arena has been stormy at times as the city and its opposition pro-democracy forces push for full democracy in 2017.
A mass half-million strong protest in 2003 against the policies of unpopular former leader Tung Chee-hwa, ultimately forced him from office mid-term.
Leung had initially been considered an underdog in March’s poll against Tang. But a series of scandals, including one over illegal structures discovered in Tang’s home, proved a tipping point that ruined Tang’s campaign.
Leung has apologized for “negligence” over the matter, denying he’d covered anything up while blaming a “memory lapse” for much of the confusion.
Leung has faced further criticism over confidential U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks that showed his adviser, Shiu Sin-por, told U.S. diplomats that Beijing was not willing to cede complete control over the city’s first direct election for its leader in 2017.
Shiu said Chinese leaders would ensure that even with universal suffrage, individuals deemed unacceptable to Beijing would never get nominated or elected as Hong Kong’s leader.
Reporting by James Pomfret and Grace Li; Editing by Alison Williams