17 October 2018
Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, in declaring his intention to run for chief executive, may dilute the chances of other potential candidates. Photo: HKEJ
Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, in declaring his intention to run for chief executive, may dilute the chances of other potential candidates. Photo: HKEJ

Why a retired judge is joining the chief executive election

While political pundits are focused on the oath-taking saga at the Legislative Council, the chief executive election is getting closer every day.

And what better way to remind us the election is just around the corner than someone announcing his decision to join the race?

That someone is, of course, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who is the first to declare his intention to run for the highest office in the territory, while all those being bruited about as potential candidates have been hemming and hawing all along.

Declaring one’s intention to run for the office is quite a long way from securing sufficient nominations and Beijing’s blessing, but at least he’s started the ball rolling.

Will the others soon follow suit?

Some political observers pointed out that Woo’s participation in the race could reduce the chances of other potential candidates, such as Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, and thus pave the way for the incumbent, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to grab enough votes for a second term.

In his talks with members of the legal profession, Woo, 70, has said he would like to run for the office because society is being torn apart and he wants to do something about it.

Woo was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1987. He became a High Court judge in 1992 and was appointed to the Court of Appeal in 2000.

In 2004, he became its vice-president before retiring in 2011.

Apart from Woo, no one has yet declared their intention to join the chief executive race. Several officials have made hints, but their pronouncements have always been accompanied by so many ifs and buts.

John Tsang did tell the media he would consider running if the public wants him to do so, while CY Leung’s most recent response to media queries was “I will tell you once I got the notification”.

Other names mentioned include former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, who said everything depends on God’s intention, and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who says the stalled political reform process must continue, which may be her way of saying that she wants to remain in government, ideally leading it, to pursue the process.

What is clear is that all these potential candidates will not make any definite pronouncements unless they are sure of getting the blessing from Beijing.

Some observers say Beijing will start giving signals to the public after the election of members of the election committee subsectors in December.

That makes sense because the top leaders would like to know how many seats in the 1,200-member committee will be won by Beijing loyalists. On the other hand, the opposition says it is hoping to win at least 300 seats.

As to be expected, Woo’s participation in the race has drawn mixed reaction.

Pro-Beijing scholar Lau Siu-kai said the announcement doesn’t mean Woo has won Beijing’s blessing or that Beijing has chosen him to replace CY Leung.

Lau also said some people harbor a negative impression of local judges, adding that the judiciary should be separate from the executive authority and the legislature.

Moreover, local judges are appointed by the chief executive, meaning not selected in a democratic way, and this could affect Hong Kong’s political development.

For the opposition camp, the goal is clear: “Anyone but CY.”

Their aim is to deprive CY Leung of the opportunity to secure a second term, even if that means supporting John Tsang to become the next chief executive.

But some observers are worried that Woo’s candidacy could further dilute the potential support for Tsang, as many people, including some democrats, have a high regard for judges and their known impartiality and adherence to the rule of law.

Besides, Woo has no administration experience, which could be seen as a liability by members of the election committee.

Woo’s announcement has fueled speculation that he is trying to steer public attention away from the oath-taking saga, and indirectly helping CY Leung to settle the controversy.

Settling the oath-taking issue would make Leung look good in the eyes of the top leaders in Beijing.

While Woo may not be the best candidate for the office, his announcement should bring public attention back to the chief executive election.

John Tsang, who is one of the most popular among the potential chief executive candidates, has reportedly notified Beijing of his intention to resign and join the race.

In a few more weeks, the election fever will be upon us, and that should cool down the controversy over the oath-taking of the Youngspiration duo and allow us to focus on our future, or at least the next five years.

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EJ Insight writer

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