It would be wonderful if our next chief executive is someone who is trusted by Beijing and also enjoys high popularity among the Hong Kong public.
Unfortunately, a perfect candidate like this is very hard to come by these days, and we may have to settle for someone who can only fulfill either one of the above conditions.
Looking at Leung Chun-ying, the incumbent chief executive, he is probably the least popular top leader the city has seen since the 1997 handover. But will the extreme unpopularity prove to be a disadvantage if he wants a second term?
Not necessarily, because public opinion or approval ratings have never been a prime concern for Beijing when it comes to deciding who would get the top job.
Nor is Beijing likely to get swayed by any smear campaign or political onslaught mounted by the political opponents of the person it favors.
One might still remember the ferocity of the smear campaign and character assassination mounted by Henry Tang Ying-yen’s supporters against Leung Chun-ying back in 2012.
Topics brought up included possible links with triad members, a Legco inquiry into possible conflict of interest in relation to the West Kowloon Cultural District design competition more than a decade ago, and remarks that Leung allegedly made during an Executive Council meeting that he would not hesitate to use riot police and tear gas against pro-democracy protestors.
However, all the smear attempts failed to change Beijing’s mind and prevent Leung from getting the top post.
The reason for that is as simple as it gets: Beijing was looking for someone it can totally rely on to ensure tighter grip on Hong Kong, rather than a person with popularity and integrity.
Given this thinking, why would Beijing replace a steadfast lackey like Leung, who will execute whatever task is given to him without a moment’s hesitation, with someone less trustworthy?
Some may argue that the recent handshakes between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah are a strong indication that Leung might have fallen out of favor with Beijing.
But such speculation is off the mark. If handshakes with top Beijing leaders are really a measure of a person’s odds of being chosen as the next CE, CY Leung is actually the top pick.
We mustn’t forget that Leung has probably shaken hands with our Beijing leaders more frequently than any other CE hopeful in our city.
When John Tsang was caught on camera shaking hands with Xi last summer at the founding ceremony of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing, rumors had it that Leung was in the doghouse and might not be allowed to serve out his term.
However, it turns out that it was nothing but wishful thinking on the part of the Leung-haters. The doomsday predictions on leung never materialized.
In fact judging from recent developments, the odds are in favor of Leung’s re-election and he is well placed to get a second term.
We should bear in mind that the pro-establishment camp will still have a majority in the next Legislative Council, as the democracy camp — thanks to infighting — was unable to capitalize on the high voter turnout in the recent election.
Another factor working in Leung’s favor is that Beijing will see the steadfast party stalwart as being more reliable when compared with the Harvard-educated and western-style John Tsang.
When the dust settles, it could prove to be an easy choice for the Communist leadership.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 13.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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