With Beijing remaining steadfast in its plan for the 2017 chief executive election, Hong Kong people should focus on who can be the best potential candidate under the restrictive framework.
The search should be for a person who will be acceptable to the central authorities while also enjoying sufficient goodwill among the Hong Kong public.
Who then fits the bill?
Well, how about Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, the current president of the Legislative Council (LegCo)?
Although considered a Beijing loyalist, Tsang’s track record offers enough evidence that he won’t hesitate to guard Hong Kong’s core values and autonomy.
The LegCo chief was ranked No. 1 among Hong Kong’s lawmakers in terms of personal popularity in a recent poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong. Meanwhile, people from the pan-democratic camp suffered a slide in their positions. Tsang’s grade in the latest survey also marks a new high for him since he became a LegCo member in 1997.
While chief executive Leung Chun-ying’s approval rating constantly hovers at low levels, Tsang has achieved what was deemed mission impossible: an old-line pro-Beijing politician with strong leftist leanings scoring high in popularity sweepstakes.
Tsang had sometimes been accused of being an underground member of the Chinese Communist Party. But every time he was asked to clarify his position, the LegCo chief’s standard response has been that “it is not appropriate to discuss such an issue in Hong Kong”. And, no further comment.
That indicates that Tsang is aware of the public’s sensibilities.
Lee Yee, a well-known commentator and democracy supporter, noted in a column back in 2011 that “unlike Leung’s suspicious, flat denial, (when it comes to his party membership) Tsang is at least not trying to lie to the public”. Lee adds that if a communist can uphold his moral standards, he is worth our respect.
Lee’s remarks dovetail with that of Florence Leung Mo-han (梁慕嫻), former chairwoman of the local youth NGO Hok Yau Club (學友社) who confessed that she was a party member in the 1960s. Tsang is “a communist with his own consciences and a sense of dignity”, said Florence Leung.
Tsang also showed that he is different from the other establishment camp members when he was asked about his view on the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.
Tsang admitted that Beijing’s decision to send troops to crack down on student protesters “was awfully wrong”.
That is in contrast to Leung’s comments when asked about the tragedy. Rather than criticize the Chinese leadership, Leung said that we should focus on China’s economic achievements and that Deng Xiaoping should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for poverty alleviation and reform efforts.
Coming back to Tsang, in a recent interview with RTHK anchor Stephen Davies, the LegCo president famously said that “if Taiwan and Xinjiang go independent, China and Hong Kong will have far less troubles to deal with”.
Last year Tsang also hit the nail on the head when he urged Beijing to eradicate the “devil inside” to set their minds free in relation to the 2017 election.
At the height of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, the LegCo chief told Hong Kong Economic Journal that the government must reflect on its youth policies and should not simplify the issue to housing or social mobility problems.
When Leung repeatedly hinted that foreign powers were masterminding the protests, Tsang said he cannot see any evidence of that.
Tsang has also won acclaim for his duty as the LegCo president. He has been very accommodative toward the pan-democrats and always stuck to the LegCo’s Rules of Procedure to be fair and unbiased. That has prompted some teammates within the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and some Beijing media mouthpieces, to sometimes attack Tsang for “conniving” in the pan-democratic filibustering efforts.
Tsang is the founding chairman of the pro-Beijing DAB.
While Tsang has upheld the LegCo procedures, his loyalty to Beijing is also not in doubt. After graduating with honors from Hong Kong University, Tsang chose to be a teacher at a local pro-Beijing high school rather than go to the United States with full scholarship.
His younger brother Tsang Tak-sing (now the minister of home affairs) was even jailed for two years by the colonial authorities during the 1967 riots for spreading Communism thoughts.
The DAB that he founded is now the largest pro-Beijing political group that has contributed significantly to the smooth handover and implementation of Beijing’s initiatives after 1997.
That’s why Beijing trusts Tsang and largely keeps silent even when his comments on national and local affairs are not so “politically correct”.
With his integrity and openness when presiding LegCo meetings well-known, Tsang also maintains sound ties with democrats. Even a radical lawmaker like “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung has described Tsang as “truly a gentleman (君子)”.
Given his popularity, it won’t be a problem for Tsang to constitute a good-quality and cohesive cabinet if he becomes the chief executive. Decades of experience as well as his competence as Hong Kong’s “Speaker of the House” all qualify him to take up the territory’s leadership.
And most importantly, going by his words and deeds throughout his political career, it’s fair to say that he is a man who loves Hong Kong and wants it to be a better place.
Now, one may ask why Beijing did not consider letting Jasper Tsang lead Hong Kong when Tung Chee-hwa stepped down in 2005 or when Donald Tsang completed his term in 2012?
The answer, ironically, could lie in Tsang’s DAB background. Observers point out that if central authorities had picked the former chief of the largest pro-Beijing political group for the chief executive’s post, Beijing could have faced the risk of losing support from the Hong Kong business community, particularly the Liberal Party. That would have dented the pro-establishment camp.
At the moment, DAB is still not strong enough to be seen as the sole representative of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong. Beijing may need 5 to 10 more years to groom DAB and other pro-Beijing political groups, while marginalizing the Liberal Party.
In the meantime, Beijing cannot choose any DAB member to lead the city. That’s an unwritten rule that Jasper Tsang should have clearly understood a decade ago.
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