What happened in the Legislative Council Thursday surprised everyone.
How could the pro-Beijing legislators miss the most important vote there since 1997 and one for which they had been preparing meticulously for two years?
We are asked to believe that it was a mistake in communication, that the legislators did not coordinate their walkout – allowing the vote to be held and the government’s electoral reform plan to be soundly rejected.
But there is another explanation – it was all political theater arranged by Beijing to embarrass Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and enable it to remove him before the end of the year and replace him with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor or Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah.
I have no documents to prove this but have been given this explanation by some who know the workings of the central government.
Since the most widely circulated explanation is implausible, please listen to this one.
President Xi Jinping is angry with CY and considers him incompetent.
He holds CY responsible for the failure to pass the political reform package: how could he not persuade the small number of democrats needed to pass the bill?
He also holds him responsible for the Occupy Central protests, which lasted for 79 days.
How did CY allow political differences in Hong Kong to escalate to the point that tens of thousands sat in for more than two months, showing a bad face of China to the world and setting parents against children, teachers against students?
Xi is also angry with him for his lack of popularity, both with the public and the business and political elite.
When I go to dim sum on Sundays, my family members mock him with the name “689″ – the number of votes he received from the 1,200-member Election Committee in March 2012 – and swap stories of his inaction and make comic imitations of his speeches.
For Xi and his colleagues, Leung’s greatest mistake is over the electoral reform bill.
They decided that, since it would not pass Legco, they must use the occasion to bring him down.
“If Liverpool lose 0-1 or 1-2 to Manchester United, its fans will not call for the manager to resign,” one source told me.
“But, if the team loses 0-7 to Manchester United, then they will demand that he leave.”
That was the logic behind the “theater” — to design the defeat in a way that humiliates Leung and makes him lose face.
Not only did the democrats have more votes in Legco, but the legislators in favour did not even show up.
That was an insult to all those who campaigned long and hard for a yes vote and those in the city who supported them.
The legislators who were absent during the vote will not have to resign — they were following the script they were given, the sources said.
CY will be out of office before the end of the year, perhaps within a few months.
He will be replaced by Lam or Tsang, who both enjoy higher ratings among the public and are not confrontational figures.
They can talk to the democrats and have widespread links with the business community.
“Beijing’s priority is to have the political reform bill passed before 2017,” the sources said.
“It is a question of international face. If the 2017 election is held on the same basis as 2012, everyone will laugh at China.”
They said: “The bill can be modified to lower the bar for those who can be nominated and allow a wider range of candidates. But the final decision on the candidates will rest with Beijing.
“There is room for negotiation, which Leung was unwilling and unable to do, and to bring a majority of the public behind it.”
Lam is a strong candidate. A graduate of St. Francis Canossian College and Hong Kong University, she is a career civil servant who has held a wide variety of senior positions.
She does not have property in Hong Kong. Her husband lives in retirement in Britain together with their two sons, who are studying at university there.
So Lam has no illegal property structures, unlike Leung or his rival Henry Tang. She has a clean image and has not been tarnished by corruption or scandal.
“If she can get the political reform bill passed by 2017, she will be chief executive for five years,” the sources said.
“If not, she will serve in the interim and be replaced in 2017.”
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