16 October 2018
Leung Chun-ying may have been the biggest beneficiary of a pan-democratic covenant to vote against Beijing's preferred election framework. Photo: Reuters
Leung Chun-ying may have been the biggest beneficiary of a pan-democratic covenant to vote against Beijing's preferred election framework. Photo: Reuters

How Leung is getting a free ride from pan-democrats

We can get this off our chest: Universal suffrage is dead. Long live universal suffrage.

There will be no one man, one vote in the next chief executive election after pan-democrats signed a pledge to vote against a Beijing-backed framework.

But the lobbying continues. 

The latest salvo, attributed to “authoritative sources” in Beijing, came around the time the pan-democrats set their hand to the covenant.

The sources laid out a scenario that puts Leung Chun-ying in charge for another five years if the proposal is rejected by the Legislative Council.

This is how it’s supposed to happen: the 2017 election will revert to the same formula under which Leung was elected in 2012 through a 1,200-member committee.

Surely, the pan-democrats must have seen that and weighed the prospect of another Leung administration against the chances of their efforts ultimately resulting in universal suffrage.

Still, that begs the question: is Leung getting a free ride from them? And more to the point, did they just play into Beijing’s hand?

Those keen to read between the lines will see Beijing’s motives in different ways.

The most obvious pits one side of the pan-democratic camp against the other by presenting them with a stark choice nobody wants.

Interestingly, the same “authoritative sources” raised the prospect of the dreaded national security bill being revived under a second Leung administration. 

It’s a scare tactic and the choices are comparable to those of a man pinned between a cliff and a lion. 

Others will see a political calculation aimed at stopping Leung in 2017 even if he gets on the ballot, with Beijing able to offer an alternative under a narrow nomination process.

The second scenario is gaining traction because unlike the first, it has not been talked to death.

But just who are those authoritative sources?

Some political observers say they’re one person in Rita Fan, a powerful Hong Kong deputy to China’s legislature, who is one of a few pro-Beijing officials to have publicly criticized Leung.

Presumably, she speaks with official authority and represents one view.   

Leung has his own backers in Beijing including NPC chief Zhang Dejiang, according to reports. Similarly, he can call on senior cadres who are said to have been impressed by his handling of last year’s pro-democracy protests.

President Xi Jinping publicly said flattering words about Leung during last year’s anniversary of Macau’s handover to China.

Given these developments — and considering the tense relationships within the communist elite amid Xi’s unrelenting crackdown on corruption — it’s conceivable that Beijing officials are in two minds about universal suffrage.

Which means that ultimately, the hardliners might be willing to ease their stance to win over just enough pan-democrats to pass the bill.

Meanwhile, as the to-and-fro unfolds, Leung can kick back thinking it could be a win-win situation for him, no matter which way it goes.

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EJ Insight writer

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