19 February 2019
Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang (left) and Financial Secretary John Tsang appear to be leading the race for the next chief executive, or are they? Photos: HKEJ, Bloomberg
Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang (left) and Financial Secretary John Tsang appear to be leading the race for the next chief executive, or are they? Photos: HKEJ, Bloomberg

What’s next after ABC?

Who is likely to become our next Chief Executive?

The election is just nine months away, but no one has yet come forward to say that he or she is up for the race.

I happened to tune in to RTHK, and heard the panelists at the radio station’s Backchat program provide some interesting answers.

First, the acronym ABC prevails. It stands for Anyone But CY.

We all know that Leung Chun-ying will move heaven and earth in order to clinch a second term, and the only reason why he hasn’t declared his candidacy is because Beijing, even this late, has not yet bothered to give him a clear signal that he should run.

And everyone, except perhaps CY Leung, knows the reason for Beijing’s hesitance, which has something to do about his popularity ratings.

Now, you would ask, why would Beijing bother about popularity when there’s no genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong in the first place?

Comedian Dayo Wong Chi-wah once said he would support any Chief Executive who could “safely walk out from a public estate without a bodyguard”.

Also surprising is the case of Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who seemed to have changed her mind about retiring from government next year.

Now she is not ruling out a crack at the top post.

However, few people think that she’ll get the promotion, and we all know that the only reason she is keeping her options open is that Beijing has told her not to rule out the possibility – not yet, anyway.

So that puts the spotlight on the Double J, or the Double T, whichever way you prefer to call them – Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing.

Both score high on the popularity index, and their weekly blogs – John on Sunday and Jasper on Monday – are well read and admired.

I always think there are three factors that make a good candidate for chief executive. First, he/she wants to run. Second, he/she is capable of running. And third, people want him/her to run.

Under these three criteria, the Double Js are leading the race, although they also have their own issues.

Few would disagree that John Tsang is highly qualified for the position.

But despite his superb public relations skills and his ability to relate with the young generation, the financial secretary is seen to be no more than a protégé of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yum-kuen.

Besides, there are doubts as to whether Beijing fully trusts him, although he did score a vigorous handshake from President Xi Jinping last year.

His China card, however, was offset by state leader Zhang Dejiang, who was said to have challenged him during his recent visit to Hong Kong.

So perhaps we need a clearer signal from Beijing.

The situation may present some opportunities for the popular Jasper Tsang, who has shown that he is more than Plan B as when he was almost called up to replace Henry Tang Ying-yen in the chief executive race four years ago.

The Legco chief showed that he could walk a fine line between serving Chinese authorities and speaking for Hong Kong people, while communicating well with the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps.

Of course, having been able to preside over a difficult Legco is not enough. We need to see more of his policy thinking and how he is able to run the administrative system left over by the colonial government.

There are also the wild cards.

The ever-ambitious Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is still waiting for some signal from the north or the twinkling of the stars, while the less ambitious Antony Leung Kam-chung now seems less likely to leave Nan Fung Group after being promoted to chairman last month.

The road to the Government House is long and steep, and the next few months are bound to hold more surprises.

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EJ Insight writer

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