23 October 2016
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (second from left) is flanked in this file picture by possible candidates for his post, (from left) Financial Secretary John Tsang, Legco head Jasper Tsang and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.  Photo: HKEJ
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (second from left) is flanked in this file picture by possible candidates for his post, (from left) Financial Secretary John Tsang, Legco head Jasper Tsang and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam. Photo: HKEJ

The curtain has risen on the 2017 chief executive race

That the Electoral Affairs Commission suddenly demanded that those intending to run in the Legislative Council election sign a declaration pledging allegiance to the Basic Law is by no means a coincidence.

It could be a part of Leung Chun-ying’s plot to shift the major theme of this election from candidates’ stance on whether or not to support his re-election to their stance on Hong Kong independence.

Apparently, after getting rid of the deputy commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Rebecca Li Bo-lan, Leung is now working aggressively to seek a second term.

Unless Beijing stops him, it is almost a foregone conclusion that Leung will seek his re-election.

According to recent news reports his think tank has already moved into a bigger office in Kowloon, and some of his former election campaign staff are already back to work.

Among the known front-runners in the chief executive contest, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah are definitely Leung’s biggest rivals.

According to unconfirmed reports, both were summoned to Shenzhen recently to meet with high-ranking Beijing officials, who encouraged them to run for their boss’s post.

When asked by reporters whether that was true, both of them neither acknowledged nor denied it.

That Lam plans to run has become increasingly apparent over the past several months.

Not only did she take the liberty of making donations to the national giant panda sanctuary in Sichuan province using public money to please Beijing, Lam also met with leaders of pro-establishment parties in Legco, putting forward her grand plans to tackle three major issues, namely the unchecked MTR fare hikes, the dominance of the Link REIT, and the problem-ridden MPF scheme.

In contrast, Tsang has been keeping a much lower profile.

Even though he has the highest approval ratings among the three, it seems he still hasn’t made up his mind yet on whether he would run.

If Tsang decides not to run, then perhaps the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s chief executive, Norman Chan Tak-lam, is likely to be his substitute.

Recently there was talk that Chan hired a PR consultant firm earlier this year to help him with election planning.

And then there is outgoing Legco president Jasper Tsang Yuk-sing.

Widely regarded as probably the most experienced, profound and resourceful leader in the pro-establishment camp, the Legco chief’s ambition to become the next chief executive might not be as great as CY Leung and Carrie Lam’s.

However, as a steadfast party stalwart, he will definitely run if Beijing orders him to do so.

Besides, Jasper Tsang is an ideal choice for Beijing, which always prefers a communist party member to run Hong Kong.

Former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung is another potential front-runner in the race.

Rumor has it that he has privately expressed interest in running but is worried about ending up like Henry Tang Ying-yen once the contest gets ugly.

Last but not least, lawmaker and former secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee already expressed strong eagerness to run even during the run-up to the 2012 election.

She is widely considered a long shot in the race for the next CE and she has remained relatively quiet recently, but it doesn’t necessarily mean she has given up hope on next year’s election.

It is very likely that the race is going to be a neck-and-neck one, therefore the 200 votes the pan-democrats are holding in the election committee might in the end prove decisive in determining who is going to be our next CE.

That said, perhaps it’s time for the pan-democrats to seriously think about how to cast their votes strategically and smartly.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 22.

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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