24 October 2016
Though CY Leung is widely considered to be a divisive figure, it remains to be seen if Beijing will deny him a second term. Photo: HKEJ
Though CY Leung is widely considered to be a divisive figure, it remains to be seen if Beijing will deny him a second term. Photo: HKEJ

Why the ‘ABC’ campaign is illogical

It is a fact that many Hong Kong people don’t like Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. But does this hatred run so deep that if the central government offers him a second term, a million people will take to the streets in a second wave of Occupy Central?

Civic Party member Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, for one, believes that it will indeed happen. He told an English-language radio show that he will be one of the first to join a second wave of mass civil disobedience if Leung gets a fresh term.

I personally don’t think that a million people will take to the streets just because Beijing gives Leung a second term. Even though many people loathe him, this hatred alone is not a strong enough trigger to cause a mass protest of that magnitude.

Even during Tung Chee-hwa’s unpopular rule, Article 23 national security legislation, the SARS outbreak, negative-equity home prices and a financial crisis, only 500,000 people joined a mass street protest in 2003.

Organizers said recently that about 6,000 joined a protest march against the central government after Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee claimed mainland security agents had abducted him for interrogation when he crossed the border late last year and that his colleague Lee Po had been kidnapped in Hong Kong by mainland agents and taken across the border, violating local laws.

The case of the booksellers strikes at the very heart of “one country, two systems”, yet a protest march against mainland heavy-handedness drew just thousands.

Some estimates have it that one million people joined the 2014 Occupy movement. But it would be inaccurate to say one million people occupied streets in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay at the start of the Occupy protest in the same way that 500,000 people took part in a mass protest on one single day on July 1, 2003.

The Occupy movement lasted 79 days and it may be that during this time one million people, including actual protesters, curious Hong Kong people, and foreign and mainland tourists went to the various protest sites. That is not the same as claiming one million people took part. I went to the protest sites many times but it would not be accurate to say I was a protester who joined the movement. I went merely as a journalist and an observer.

Although all the possible candidates, including Leung, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, and New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee have refused to clearly say if they will run in next year’s chief executive election, all the signs are that Leung is preparing to seek a second term.

When the time comes, he will, of course, only run if he gets the support of the central government.

My view is that if he runs, Lam and Tsang will not because it would not look good for the central government if either the chief secretary or the financial secretary competes against the sitting chief executive. The central government will face the dilemma of having to decide who to support.

Supporting Leung instead of, for example, Lam, will send the negative message that Beijing doesn’t trust Hong Kong’s chief secretary. Supporting Lam, meanwhile, will send the signal that Leung had failed as chief executive. Running also means Lam will have to resign her post to focus on the election. Same thing if the financial secretary runs.

As the chief executive, Leung will not have to resign to run but will have to focus on the election. This means two of the top three people in the government will not be able to focus on governing Hong Kong.

The situation was different when Henry Tang Ying-yen resigned as chief secretary in 2012 to run for chief executive because Donald Tsang Yam-kuen – who was not allowed by law to run for a third term – could still focus on governing Hong Kong.

The opposition camp has embraced the ABC – Anyone but CY – slogan as a campaign strategy for this September’s Legislative Council polls and next year’s chief executive election.

Ricky Wong Wai-kay, whose application for a free-to-air TV license was rejected by Leung, has said that if he formally decides to be a candidate in the Legco election, he will use the ABC slogan as his sole campaign strategy.

But I find the ABC movement puzzling. The movement rests solely on the principle of targeting a man rather than his policies. Are pan-democrats saying they don’t mind even if the central government selects a far less qualified person than Leung?

For the sake of argument, will the pan-democrats not mind even if Beijing makes Arthur Li Kwok-cheung the next chief executive? Are they saying they don’t want Leung even though many of his livelihood policies are things they support? How can that be logical? Surely, it’s in the overall interest of Hong Kong to have the most qualified leader possible, even if that leader is hated by many.

The ABC movement puzzles me because the opposition camp is now asking the central government to replace Leung even though whoever takes over will, of course, also be someone loyal to Beijing. This same opposition camp voted down a political reform framework last year that would have given millions of Hong Kong people the right to elect their own chief executive through universal suffrage.

Pan-democrat legislators rejected the framework with the argument that it was not genuine democracy because candidates would be screened out by a nomination committee filled with pro-Beijing people, which means only candidates loyal to the central government can compete.

Now, which is better – giving people the right to vote out Leung and elect another Beijing loyalist through universal suffrage or asking the central government to do the same thing through a small circle election which allows only 1,200 people of an election committee to vote?

The pan-democrats rejected a plan that could have replaced Leung with another loyalist through one person, one vote but now embraces an ABC movement that seeks to replace Leung not through one person, one vote but through Beijing. It makes no logical sense.

It is too early to say if Beijing will buy the ABC reasoning, which is that five more years of Leung will tear apart Hong Kong politically. The central government likes to keep its cards close to its chest, re-shuffling them when necessary.

There is no doubt that Leung is widely seen as a divisive rather than a unifying figure. Many people see him as a leader who puts the central government’s interests above those of Hong Kong. This perception was further cemented by Leung’s weak response to the case of the five Causeway Bay booksellers who were seized and detained by mainland agents for interrogation.

Lam Wing-kee’s astonishing revelations that mainland agents grabbed him and whisked him away blindfolded to secretive locations for months of questioning when he crossed the border will add fuel to the ABC campaign.

But the question is whether the central government still cares so much about Hong Kong that it prefers a unifying figure to someone it can trust completely.

Another question is if not Leung, then who?

None of the possible candidates mentioned so far have shown they are far more qualified than the current chief executive. But the ABC philosophy is that qualifications are not important, and that anyone whose name is not CY Leung will be accepted with open arms.

All the signs so far are that Beijing prefers a chief executive who is a hardline loyalist than a more likeable one who is better skilled in unifying the people. There is also the fact that it cannot really make a difference whoever becomes our next leader. I said this in a previous column some months ago.

Let’s assume that Beijing buys the ABC philosophy and makes Lam our next chief executive. Will the pan-democrats then no longer demand so-called genuine democracy? Will the independence movement end its campaign? Will the localists give up their call for self-determination? Will Beijing soften its hardline position against so-called true democracy?

Of course not.

Whoever becomes chief executive will still have to do Beijing’s bidding. And it is no secret that Beijing and the opposition camp are poles apart on issues such as democracy and self-determination. This will guarantee continued confrontation whoever becomes our next leader.

Add to that our dysfunctional political system and we have a recipe that makes Hong Kong virtually ungovernable. I have said in a previous column some months ago that Hong Kong’s political system is so outdated that it makes governance very difficult whoever is chief executive.

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has now also said that governance is difficult because the chief executive is not allowed under the Basic Law to be a member of a political party. That’s why I believe even if the ABC movement succeeds it will not make much difference.

This article appeared in Chinese in the July issue of Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly. 

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.

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