20 February 2019
Some observers feel that Regina Ip (R) will have a chance in the 2017 chief executive election and that Starry Lee (L) should target the race in 2022 or 2027. Photos: HKEJ
Some observers feel that Regina Ip (R) will have a chance in the 2017 chief executive election and that Starry Lee (L) should target the race in 2022 or 2027. Photos: HKEJ

Will Starry Lee become HK’s first female chief executive?

Prepare to hear more about Starry Lee, the vice chairperson of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), in the coming weeks.

As her pro-Beijing party prepares for a leadership shuffle, Lee appears to be well placed to take over the reins and put herself in the contention for even bigger things in Hong Kong’s post-Occupy era.

DAB’s current leader Tam Yiu-chung has announced that he will step down in March, when the party re-elects its central committee, paving the way for a big change in the city’s largest political group.

Tam, a traditional pro-Beijing politician from the Federation of Trade Unions, said he would like to let younger members lead the party.

He did not say whether Lee will succeed him, but many political watchers are already placing their bets on the vice chairperson.

Being a member of Executive Council and Legislative Council at the same time, Lee has the most political power in the party, which will prove a crucial advantage in taking over the top post in DAB and provide vital inputs for the Leung Chun-ying administration on governance issues.

Lee, an accountant, stepped into Hong Kong’s political world in 1999 as an elected Kowloon City district councilor. She became a lawmaker in 2008 through the Kowloon West geographical constituency. In 2012, she was elected as one of five “super seat” lawmakers with a wider mandate.

Taking the top post in the DAB will put Lee in a better position to demonstrate her leadership and help expand the support base of the pro-Beijing party before district council and legislative council elections take place in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Lee’s relatively mild image as a Beijing loyalist, compared to those of others in the pro-establishment camp, could help DAB secure the support of the so-called silent majority in the Hong Kong society following the 79-day Occupy campaign last year.

People claiming to be the silent majority are keen on keeping a good relationship with Beijing. That will create a favorable macro environment for Lee to win more seats in the district council election later this year.

But political observers are looking beyond the upcoming elections in assessing the political prospects of Lee. Many are betting that she could be the dark horse for the 2017 chief executive election. 

Given her professional background as an accountant and good education at a local university, Lee is seen as someone who will be much more acceptable to the public compared to other traditional Beijing loyalists in Hong Kong.

Beijing would have already started its vetting process for potential contenders in the 2017 race. Names such as New People Party’s chief Regina Ip and former Financial Secretary Anthony Leung have been doing the rounds in the media, and Lee could find herself catapulted into the league after the DAB election.

As Beijing seeks to tighten control over Hong Kong affairs, it will make sure that the next chief executive — assuming that Leung will not run for a second term — will be someone who is loyal to Beijing while also having enough acceptability in Hong Kong.

Lee may be to young for the post, but still we cannot rule out her chances, especially if she wins a landslide in the upcoming elections.

DAB members could try to convince Beijing that the party be allowed to nominate its own chief executive candidate. Lee could then become the candidate, although she will need to resign as the party leader as the Basic Law bars the chief executive from having political affiliation.

Regina Ip could be preferred by some middle class groups given her civil servant background. But pan-democrats and their supporters have not forgotten Ip’s actions in 2003 when she pushed for a national security law in Hong Kong.

Anthony Leung has been actively involved in China charity works in a bid establish a positive image with top leaders and the pro-Beijing camp. However, it is doubtful if Beijing will once again pick a business background candidate for the city’s top job.

Amid this situation, Lee will definitely figure in the discussions. But it’s still too early to say whether Beijing will allow her to join the race, as she is just 40 years in age and can afford to wait a while for her turn.

Whatever happens, some interesting times definitely lie ahead for Lee.

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EJ Insight writer

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