27 October 2016
Leung Chun-ying (bottom, center) might still be indulging in his own fantasy that he can win his second term easily, but other chief executive hopefuls are already geared up for the race. Photo: HKEJ, CNSA
Leung Chun-ying (bottom, center) might still be indulging in his own fantasy that he can win his second term easily, but other chief executive hopefuls are already geared up for the race. Photo: HKEJ, CNSA

Who is the real underdog in the race to be chief executive?

With the next election for Hong Kong’s chief executive only about 18 months away, several political heavyweights in the pro-establishment camp appear to be all geared up to compete for the city’s top job.

The incumbent, Leung Chun-ying, would have the blessing of Beijing in his bid for re-election if not for his own incompetence.

Under his rule, our city is falling apart, and the mounting social conflicts Leung ignited have taken their toll on our economic and social development.

As the growth outlook for Hong Kong stays gloomy and Leung’s popularity remains at a record low, it is apparent that Beijing’s patience is running out quickly.

However, despite the fact that he is loathed by basically everyone, the shameless, thick-skinned and unabashed Leung will definitely seek re-election, unless Beijing officially probes his allegedly illegal business connections with Australian firm UGL and forces him to resign before he announces he will run for a second term.

It is said that Leung has hired some PR gurus to find out why he is so deeply hated by the public.

How hilarious!

If Leung is aware he is so unpopular and if he still has the least amount of common decency, then why doesn’t he stop sticking to his pipe dream of getting re-elected and step down immediately, for goodness’ sake, so he can at least spare us further misery and redeem himself a little bit?

So far there are at least five hopefuls who are ready to replace Leung in 2017. All they need is Beijing’s thumbs up.

They are Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, Monetary Authority chief Norman Chan Tak-lam, former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Executive Council and Legislative Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.

As far as Tsang is concerned, he probably wouldn’t be considered a hopeful at all if it had not been for his surprising handshake with President Xi Jinping that impressed everyone in political circles a few months ago.

It appears that he doesn’t have much political ambition, let alone his boss’s lust for power.

After all, Tsang is about to reach retirement age and has survived one heart attack, which almost killed him.

However, since Beijing seems to be quite satisfied with his performance on the job and he has indisputable loyalty to the central government, it is unlikely he would decline if Beijing really wanted him to accept the promotion.

Chan is another person to be reckoned with.

In fact, there is a lot in common in the resumes of Tsang and Chan: they both served as director of the Chief Executive’s Office, they both have a proven track record in the fiscal and financial fields, and they both have gained the full trust of Beijing.

Perhaps some in the pro-establishment camp might see Chan as a Plan B if Tsang eventually decides not to run.

Indeed Chan is quite eager to run, and sources said he has already hired two famous PR firms to coordinate his campaign and to conduct polls.

Then comes Antony Leung, who might have been chief executive already had it not been for the tax evasion scandal that cost him his job as financial secretary in 2003.

After having stayed away from the spotlight for almost a decade, Leung has resumed a high political profile again in recent years and continued to weigh in on different social and political issues in public, suggesting he might be planning a major political comeback and setting his sights on the top job.

It is believed that the Our Hong Kong Foundation founded by former chief executive Tung Chee-wah is actually intended to be the powerhouse of Leung’s campaign over the next one-and-a-half years.

However, the race for the office of chief executive is not entirely dominated by members of the big boys club.

Two prominent women are also regarded as front-runners in the competition.

Although Lam has publicly stated on different occasions that she will retire after she serves out her term as chief secretary, her words should at best be taken with a grain of salt, because it would be naïve to believe any promise made by a politician.

The fact that Lam publicly echoed the remarks of Zhang Xiaoming, director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, over the “superior power” the chief executive possesses over all branches of government and eagerly rallied to CY Leung’s defense indicates she might also be eyeing the top job.

As seasoned political commentator Lee Yee has pointed out, in the eyes of Beijing, Lam has an advantage over her rivals: she is submissive and always willing to take the blame for others’ mistakes.

Last but not least, even five-year-old kids in Hong Kong know Ip wants to be the next chief executive.

In fact, her eagerness for the top job has been so intense and explicit that it has almost become her personal obsession.

Recently she co-founded the Maritime Silk Road Society with Bernard Charnwut Chan, another heavyweight in the pro-establishment camp, in an apparent effort to echo the “one belt, one road” strategy and please Xi.

However, the new organization may just be a platform through which Ip and Bernard Chan, who himself is also seen as a chief executive hopeful, can use each other to fulfill their own ambitions.

It might still be too early to tell who is going to win this contest, but without any doubt, the race to be the next chief executive has secretly begun, and the campaign efforts of the five hopefuls are in full swing.

It simply doesn’t matter who will eventually become the official candidate, because basically everyone can beat CY Leung.

He might be the only one on Earth who believes he still stands a good chance of getting re-elected and that all the other contenders are underdogs.

However, it may turn out that Leung himself is the real underdog in the race.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 16.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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