Legislative leader Jasper Tsang Yok-sing intends to stay out of the chief executive election - at least for now.
But he could throw his hat into the ring if there's deadlock after voting on March 25. That would happen if no candidate wins more than half of the 1,200 ballots cast by the Election Committee, which would trigger a re-run in May.
The 64-year-old Tsang, a former head teacher who founded the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and is now president of the Legislative Council, decided not to pitch himself into the election because, he said, he lacks the time to shape an election platform before the nomination of candidates ends tomorrow.
He'd need to scramble into campaign work, Tsang said, though some who want to see him running "suggest that I can plagiarize the political manifestos of other candidates."
But he would need to present a proper program and, after some hard thinking over the past 10 days - since leading candidates became mired in scandal and he was encouraged by people to run - he decided to hold off.
With less than a month to the election, he explained, "it's almost impossible for me to gain the full trust of citizens about my capabilities to serve as chief executive."
Also, Tsang said, the DAB has a strategy for legislative elections in September, and party leaders have not analyzed fully how a bid by him for the SAR's top job may affect results from those polls.
He that there had not been any message from Beijing about him staying out of the chief executive race.
But a run in May would be a different proposition, Tsang said, as he would have enough time to prepare.
And he would certainly consider running then if that would help end "smear tactics that citizens do not want to see."
Such tactics being used by supporters of current leading chief executive candidates Henry Tang Ying- yen, 59, and Leung Chun-ying, 57, have severely tarnished the election process, he added.
"The credibility of the election has been seriously hit," he said - and the stature of the person who comes out on top could already have been undermined.
"It's obvious Hong Kong citizens have greater aspirations to pursue universal suffrage," Tsang said - and the central government has to address the situation.
As for smears, Tsang said he too has suffered after suggesting he could be in the running in the wake of the uproar over an illegal underground development at Tang's property in Kowloon Tong and Leung's alleged conflict of interest in the 2001 West Kowloon arts hub design contest.
Tsang revealed he has been accused of having debts, of being at the terminal stage of an illness, and plotting a bomb attack during the 1967 riots. But those allegations did not affect his decision to hold off.
Another chief executive candidate - Albert Ho Chun-yan, 60, of the Democratic Party - believes Beijing had "barred" Tsang from joining the March 25 race.
Meanwhile, chief executive hopeful Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, 61, a legislator who heads the New People's Party, reckons she will not necessarily benefit from Tsang's exit. "I met Tsang to discuss the election," she revealed yesterday, "and he told me it would be difficult for him to persuade other Election Committee members who have not made nominations yet to support me."
And there was no agreement on one of them supporting the other if either pulled out, Ip said.