17 October 2018
Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing is seen as a politically neutral person with a long history of public service.  
Photo: HKEJ
Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing is seen as a politically neutral person with a long history of public service. Photo: HKEJ

Retired judge running for chief executive?

Politics is nothing if not full of surprises. The latest from the political grapevine is that a retired judge wants to join the race for the next chief executive.

Talk about a new candidate spread like wildfire Wednesday morning after a popular political column in the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported that a “heavyweight” may announce plans to join the CE race on Thursday.

The article came short of identifying the person, but said he is a heavyweight who is neither from the administration nor from the business sector.

He is said to have spent years in public service, enjoys a certain degree of popularity and positive image, but has never been mentioned as a potential candidate in next year’s election.

That has ruled out many personalities on the growing list of possible CE contenders, including actors Andy Lau Tak-wah and Chow Yun-fat, Executive Council member Bernard Charnwut Chan, and former secretary for justice Wong Yan-lung.

But the guessing game seemed to have stopped after two local media reports revealed that the mystery person is none other than retired judge Woo Kwok-hing.

Woo, 71, served as commissioner of the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Panel of Judges for six years until the summer of 2012, which was his last office as a public servant.

Woo was chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission for nine years until August 2006.

He served as a judge from 1992 to 2004, and before that was a senior counsel from 1987 to 1992.

He was awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star in 2002.

By throwing his hat in the ring, Woo widens the choice for the next CE, although his candidacy is not expected to bring much complication to the election in March.

But if he does announce such a plan, it may come just at the right time as the judiciary is facing some challenges in society.

The latest storm to hit Hong Kong politics is the issue of whether two young localists, Youngspiration’s Yau Wai-ching and Leung Chun-hang, should be allowed to retake their oath of office at the Legislative Council.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, along with his secretary for justice, has filed an application for a judicial review, questioning the right of the Legco president to allow the two legislators-elect to retake their oath.

Leung has reversed his earlier decision to grant the localist duo another chance, prompting the pan-democrats to accuse him of yielding to pressures from the executive branch and questioning his fitness to head the legislative body and protect its independence.

Now how would KH Woo, being a retired judge, position himself on this issue? His comments would be interesting to hear.

If he manages to sound sincere and wise, he may be able to gain the support of ordinary Hong Kong people who have no sympathy for Beijing-selected candidates – be they Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, former Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing or legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.

But how Woo would handle the unprecedented political chaos resulting from the oath-taking impasse is anybody’s guess.

He may be lacking in administrative experience, but he holds some advantage in being seen as a neutral person in relation to the establishment and the pan-democratic camp.

That is a quality that Beijing may be looking for in a candidate in a highly polarized society such as ours.

Watch out for more twists.

One day is too long in politics, and we still have five months to go.

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EJ Insight writer

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