22 July 2018
Beijing may only allow one of the incumbent top officials of the current administration to run in the chief executive election. Photo: HKEJ
Beijing may only allow one of the incumbent top officials of the current administration to run in the chief executive election. Photo: HKEJ

Who is Beijing’s favorite? CY Leung, Carrie Lam or John Tsang?

The next chief executive election is scheduled to be held on March 26 next year, and since the government’s political reform proposal was vetoed by the Legislative Council a year ago, the election result will continue to be determined by the 1,200 delegates sitting on the election committee.

In my upcoming series of articles I am going to analyze the election based on existing facts, and look at the winning odds of the various CE hopefuls.

Like I said in my previous articles, the last thing Beijing wants is for three or even more pro-establishment candidates to run for the top job, because if that happens, chances are none of them would be able to take more than 50 percent of the votes, which is the minimum threshold for getting elected.

Besides, fierce infighting among the pro-establishment candidates is likely to split Beijing loyalists in the election committee and allow the pan-democratic candidate to fish in troubled waters.

However, I believe our Beijing leaders wouldn’t mind two pro-establishment candidates running at the same time.

That’s because it can create the impression that it is a real competition, even though everybody knows President Xi Jinnping and Chairman Zhang of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress have the final word.

Also, it will give Beijing more room for maneuver: if its first choice screwed up in the run-up to the election, they would still have another candidate in the race.

If that is the case, which option will Beijing prefer: two incumbent leaders running against each other, one incumbent leader running against a pro-establishment rookie, or two new faces running against each other?

Based on my observations and inferences, I would say it is most likely that Beijing would take the second option, which is, to allow an incumbent top official to run against another pro-establishment hopeful who doesn’t hold any government position.

This option could introduce more refreshing and competitive elements into the election, while sending the message that the office of the chief executive is open to anyone who believes he or she is cut out for the job regardless of their political experience, as long as they pledge unwavering allegience to Beijing.

If my analysis is correct, then it means Beijing will only allow one of the incumbent leaders in the current administration to run.

It doesn’t take an expert to figure out only three people in the government are qualified to run: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah.

So here is the 64-dollar question: who has the biggest chance of getting picked for the CE race?

None of the three has officially declared any intention to run so far, but everybody can tell they are all eyeing the top job and are ready to enter the ring when the time comes.

As far as CY Leung is concerned, it is crystal clear that he is working aggressively lately to seek re-election.

Although he could be the most disliked leader our city has ever seen, he still has a fighting chance of winning a second term.

That’s because no matter how unpopular he is, in Beijing’s eyes at least he has proven a steadfast and loyal party stalwart who didn’t yield to public pressure even at the height of the Occupy protests.

That’s definitely a plus by the Communist Party’s standards.

Then there’s Carrie Lam. The about-face she has done in the past one year over her political career after she serves out her term as chief secretary is absolutely staggering, and her flip-flopping over whether she will be running for CE did raise a lot of eyebrows in both the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps.

That Lam has become increasingly hard-line and confrontational in recent months and started canvassing support among pro-establishment lawmakers perhaps indicates that her gloves are already off.

Even though to the dismay of some, she appears to have allowed her ambition to get the better of her, she is still definitely a front-runner in the CE race.

Then finally there’s John Tsang. He might be the lowest-ranking among the trio, but his expertise in international finance and his connections with global financial heavyweights have given him a definite advantage over his two superiors, not to mention that he has the highest approval ratings among the three of them.

After all, Hong Kong’s biggest value to the mainland is not its GDP, but its irreplaceable status as an international financial hub.

Beijing may find it extra-reassuring if someone who knows about the economy and who is popular among the people is given the job of running this city.

The CE election is still nine months away, and there could still be a lot of variables ahead. But for now, I would say John Tsang is Beijing’s no.1 choice, with Carrie Lam coming second and CY Leung the last.

However, the results of the upcoming Legco elections may make Beijing reassess the situation in Hong Kong, and anything can happen.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 15.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (right), shown here with National People’s Congress head Zhang Dejiang, has proven his loyalty to Beijing. Photo: HKEJ

Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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