Ronny Tong, the convener of political group Path of Democracy, has said he was “disappointed and surprised” that chief executive candidate John Tsang refused to attend a forum held by the group. Tsang’s office said it would give priority to forums hosted by electors and media owing to time constraints.

Tong is a former pro-democracy lawmaker turned centralist figure. His forum was set to be held on Sunday evening at the Pui Ching Primary School in Ho Man Tin. Tong said Carrie Lam and Woo Kwok-hing had agreed to attend, but Tsang’s office replied saying that he cannot.

Tong said he was disappointed: “We are at the same very surprised and a bit disturbed. It is an important part of elections and candidates’ basic responsibility to answer questions from the public and attend public debates.”

Ronny Tong John Tsang
Ronny Tong (left) John Tsang (right). Photo: HKFP/Apple Daily.

“We are a bit disturbed because if these candidates are elected, will they continue the governance style of the Leung Chun-ying administration whereby – recently – it only distributes information online? And does not accept questions from the public to explain policies…?”

Tong said the group has been preparing for the debate for a month and invited contenders ten days ago. But Tong said he will welcome Tsang if he changes his mind before Friday to allow time for preparation.

In response to media enquiries, Tsang’s office said that he will give priority to forums organised by electors and the media, owing to time constraints and the large number of invitation from different groups, since there are less than four weeks before the voting day on March 26.

Tsang has agreed to attend another forum hosted by the IT sector election committee members next week. Woo Kwok-hing will attend the forum, though Carrie Lam has yet to reply.

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A message from Tong on the Path of Democracy’s WhatsApp group was recently leaked to Apple Daily. Tong criticised Tsang in the message, saying that he “only works on his public image, persisting with his conservative financial philosophy from the past decade, [and is] continuing his non-intervention policies.”

“It is surely not good for Hong Kong,” he said. He also criticised Tsang for not proposing ways to handle trust and livelihood issues, in addition to political reform: “Did the seven-year rule of Donald Tsang not do enough harm to us? The minds of the pro-democracy camp are really hard to understand!”

The governing style of John Tsang is often compared with that of Donald Tsang, his former boss and the former chief executive.

Tong denied Tsang’s absence was related to the criticism: “I criticised all four contenders… does that mean you can simply not accept questions after being criticised?”

The candidates attending the forum are set to debate political structure, public finance and social welfare. They will also answer questions from moderators Tong, sociology scholar Stephen Chiu Wing-kai and journalist Joseph Tse Chi-fung. Candidates are allowed to ask each other questions.

The forum will reserve 200 seats for electors and it will be live broadcast. It will not be open to the public, however.

Tong said they wished to host the forum during the nomination period, but Tsang had refused, and Lam declined after originally agreeing to attend.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.