19 February 2019
Compared with John Tsang (left), Woo Kwok-hing (right) is a weaker contender against CY Leung (center). Photos: HKEJ, Reuters
Compared with John Tsang (left), Woo Kwok-hing (right) is a weaker contender against CY Leung (center). Photos: HKEJ, Reuters

CE election: One candidate, two, or three?

Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong is entitled to 50 years of high degree of autonomy.

And Beijing did keep its promise, not interfering in our internal affairs during the early days after the 1997 handover.

However, former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa’s ineffective governance, his failure to legislate Article 23 of the Basic Law and the July 1 protest in 2003 when half a million people took to the streets prompted Beijing to get more actively involved in our affairs.

And the rapid rise of separatism recently has further convinced Beijing that things in Hong Kong have spun out of control, which cries out for further and more direct intervention.

Since Beijing is unable to take complete control of our judiciary and legislature, thanks to our tradition of judicial independence and the defiance of pro-democracy lawmakers, the executive branch is the only apparatus it can manipulate.

That said, Beijing is going to make sure it has a firm grip on the upcoming chief executive election.

Given the lesson of the last CE election, in which the competition between Henry Tang and Leung Chun-ying went ugly, resulting in deep divisions in the pro-establishment camp, Beijing is likely to strictly limit the number of candidates this time.

From Beijing’s perspective, it would be ideal to allow no more than two candidates to make sure one of them can get more than 600 votes given that it can only control 800 to 900 votes in the 1,200-member the Election Committee.

Since it is almost certain that Leung Chun-ying will get Beijing’s green light to seek a second term, the immediate task is to introduce some level of competition to make it look like a real election but avoid a neck-and-neck race so as not to endanger Leung’s chances of winning.

The sudden emergence of retired judge Woo Kwok-hing as a candidate seems to have provided a perfect answer for Beijing.

As a highly respected public figure, Woo is undoubtedly qualified for the top job.

However, his lack of political and administrative experience compared with, say, Financial Secretary John Tsang means he is unlikely to pose any substantial threat to CY Leung.

Beijing would prefer judge Woo to John Tsang to run against Leung.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 7

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version中文版]

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HKEJ contributor

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