|From left: Leung Chun-ying, Henry Tang Ying-yen and Albert Ho Chun-yan|
The election is just over a week away and this was the first time the trio appeared together before a live audience.
The hands-down winner was Leung Chun-ying and 43.2 percent in a poll said they'd vote for him, versus 13.4 percent for Tang Ying-yen and a decent 23.2 percent for underdog Albert Ho Chun-yan.
While some critics claimed Leung looked nervous, saying perhaps he was worried about saying the wrong thing that may anger Beijing, to me his body language looked poised and confident. He seemed very prepared for all kinds of questions asked of him.
Meanwhile Tang was doing everything he could to gain ground. In the beginning of the two-hour debate he gave his opening remarks and then walked in front of his podium to bow deeply to the camera as a sign of his humility after going through many scandals. The action was bizarre and awkward.
But that was not all. Tang did all he could to undermine the leader, and at one point dug up some dirt that may have breached confidentiality rules.
He took a shot at Leung's stance on the controversial Article 23 nine years ago:
"After hundreds of thousands protested on the street in 2003, did you say, at a meeting attended only by high-ranging officials discussing whether the government should hard-sell the legislation for the national security law according to the Basic Law Article 23, did you say that 'there would be one day [when] Hong Kong would eventually need to dispatch the anti-riot police and utilize tear gas to handle protests'?"
Leung categorically denied this and so Tang used this opportunity, saying, "You are lying. Don't cheat people. Many people heard it at that time."
However, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who was security minister at the time, said she did not remember Leung make this statement and questioned whether Tang had broken confidentiality rules by revealing what happened in government meetings.
Ip may be saying this in the hopes of joining Leung's cabinet as Chief Secretary, but we may have to take her word on this since she attended every meeting related to the security law unlike Tang.
Ho garnered the most applause and laughs from the audience as he seemed to have fun poking at Tang's and Leung's weaknesses, particularly chiding them on not being more open about their stance on the June 4 crackdown.
What was most annoying was the structure of the debate. The moderators or should we say the producers did not allot enough time for the candidates to answer questions, particularly when they were complicated issues. Giving an opinion on a serious topic cannot be done in 45 seconds. And there were instances when the candidates asked each other questions and there was barely enough time to answer, giving them a chance to avoid replying.
Nevertheless, the debate was pretty lively even though some people declared it boring or predictable. The fact that there is a debate is good and gives people a chance to learn more about their future leader.
The latest sign from Beijing is that Premier Wen Jiabao has strongly hinted the person who has a strong popularity with Hong Kong people should be the next leader.
"I believe that as long as the principles of openness, justice and fairness are observed and the relevant legal procedures are complied with, the Hong Kong people will elect a chief executive who enjoys the support of the vast majority of the people in Hong Kong," he said earlier this week.
However, the media reported today that Li Ka-shing is still strongly supporting Tang despite his gaffes.
"I nominated Henry Tang," he said. "His experience and work in the administration are good for Hong Kong. I will definitely vote for him on March 25."
It's interesting seeing Li and earlier entrepreneur Allan Zeman already declaring their votes despite the public's support of Leung.
We'll have to see how it all shakes down just over a week from now.