Regina Ip, chairwoman of the pro-Beijing New People’s Party, appears to be still harboring ambitions of running for Hong Kong’s top political post after failing to do so in 2012.
On Wednesday, when asked if she plans to throw her hat into the ring for the 2017 chief executive race, Ip — who once served as the city’s security secretary — didn’t give a definite answer.
But she admitted that the issue is something that keeps crossing her mind.
While saying that she expects incumbent leader and “top seed” Leung Chun-ying to seek re-election, Ip didn’t rule out joining the contest herself under some circumstances.
The hopes are not misplaced, given that Ip stands a fair chance if Beijing decides against a second term for Leung.
With support from the central government’s Liaison Office, it is possible that Ip will secure sufficient nominations from the election committee members to emerge as a candidate.
Commenting on the prospects of Financial Secretary John Tsang and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam being in the fray, Ip said on Wednesday that she doubts if Beijing will allow the top two serving officials to run at the same time.
So, are we likely to see the chief executive election next March become a contest between Ip and Tsang? Or, a Ip and Lam duel?
Or perhaps even a face-off between Ip and Leung, if the latter is allowed to seek re-election?
Speaking on a radio program, Ip left the last possibility open, as she suggested that a contest between Leung and one of his top aides might be somewhat embarrassing for the officials.
The implication is that Ip, who is currently a member of the Executive Council — an advisory body to the chief executive — won’t face the same problem.
Well, the decision is now really up to Beijing as to who it wants to compete for Hong Kong’s top job.
Tsang and Lam will have to discuss with central authorities if they want to resign from their posts and run in the upcoming election, given that both the top officials have been appointed by Beijing.
Ip says that if she decides to join the race, it will be with the aim of winning.
“I don’t know what it is to be an underdog, I am never an underdog,” she said, signaling that she intends to go all the way if she takes the plunge.
Ip’s New People’s Party (NPP), it must be said, has emerged in a stronger position in the pro-establishment camp following the recent Legislative Council election.
The party secured approximately 100,000 more votes compared to the previous Legco election in 2012, and its seat number jumped from 2 to 3.
While Ip has not ruled out joining the chief executive race, her colleague Michael Tien has indicated that he may run for Legco presidency.
The NPP’s good showing in the Legco election earlier this month may have come as a confidence booster to Ip, but she has to contend with the fact that Hongkongers still have some misgivings about her.
While serving in the Tung Chee-hwa administration, Ip had in the past championed controversial national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law.
The proposed legislation, which came at the behest of Beijing, drew widespread protests in Hong Kong, with half a million people pouring onto the streets and demanding that the bill be withdrawn.
Following the uproar, the government pulled the plan in 2003 and Ip later resigned from her post as Secretary for Security. She then took a sabbatical and went to the US for higher studies.
Ip’s popularity took a beating following all those events.
But over time she has managed to rebuild her image somewhat, a fact that helped her party secure support from the so-called silent majority in various elections in the past four years.
In the recent Legco polls, political observers have speculated that NPP’s success stemmed from strategic planning by Beijing’s Liaison Office in terms of candidate distribution and voter mobilization strategies.
As the silent majority was seen as having reservations about DAB, which is the largest pro-Beijing political party, and groups such as the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, Beijing officials in Hong Kong wanted the NPP to grab the votes.
Compared to Leung, Ip enjoys a relatively high support rate among the public now. A survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong showed Ip scoring high marks among the Executive Council non-official members.
Lam Woon-kwong and Ip were in the top two places, with average ratings of 54.5 and 48.2, while DAB chairwoman Starry Lee had an average rating of 43.0.
But high support rate doesn’t mean greater chance of scoring in the chief executive election. A separate survey has revealed that Ip is lagging behind other potential candidates in terms of the chance to win the election, as well as the preference among local people.
The survey showed that Tsang is a clear winner, with more than 28 percent of the respondents wanting him to be the city’s top leader. A similar percentage of respondents also believed the incumbent finance chief can win the election.
However, for Ip, only 3.8 percent of the respondents supported her, while just 4.2 percent said she could win. Leung’s support rate, meanwhile, was at 10.9 percent.
But it is worth noting that the survey was commissioned by HK01.com, which is perceived as being sympathetic toward Leung and is labeled as part of pro-Leung media.
In a story accompanying the finding of the survey, the website wondered whether Tsang will be able to maintain his high support rate until the Election Day on March 26 next year.
It pointed out that in the previous chief executive election in 2012, Leung came from behind and managed to win the contest.
That said, Yu Pun-hoi, the boss of HK01, is believed to have told local politicians at a private event that Beijing has decided not to allow Leung to stand for re-election.
Central authorities will leave the candidacy issue to Hong Kong people and will make a decision based on the support ratings of potential candidates, according to some political observers close to Beijing.
Going by recent developments, it seems Beijing is testing the waters in relation to Hong Kong’s upcoming election, and that it will try to avoid the impression of “appointing” a preferred candidate.
A contest could well be on the cards, fueling the hopes of someone like Ip.
Ip may be a step closer to pursuing her goal of running for the top job, but she would still need plenty of luck and solid blessings from Beijing if she is to turn her dream into reality.
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