23 February 2019
CY Leung and John Tsang (right) have yet to announce their candidacies with four months to go befere the chief executive election. Photo: Reuters
CY Leung and John Tsang (right) have yet to announce their candidacies with four months to go befere the chief executive election. Photo: Reuters

Why John Tsang should keep a low profile for now

The chief executive election is only four months away but there’s only one declared candidate in retired judge Woo Kwok-hing.

Leung Chun-ying, John Tsang and Regina Ip are mum about their prospective candidacies.

That might be to Beijing’s liking. Central officials might want to wait until after the election committee is known before opening the floodgates to potential candidates.

Meanwhile, there seems to be more attention being lavished on Tsang thanks to his ongoing visit to Beijing.

Still, he would not be drawn.

He told reporters that he did not discuss the subject of his potential candidacy with Wang Guangya, the top official responsible for Hong Kong.

Instead, he used an oft-repeated line, saying he would consider running for chief executive if doing so would be in the best interests of Hong Kong.

When asked to elaborate, he said: “I don’t know how to elaborate on it. It could just make things worse.”

Tsang should be busy preparing for the 2017 government budget which he is scheduled to deliver at the end of February.

At the same time, if he is going to join the race, he should be busy building his campaign.

That should put things in place if he is anointed by Beijing. Leung has not ruled out a second term and is presumably waiting for Beijing’s green light before making any announcement.

Tsang needs to strike a balance between his potential candidacy and his current job to avoid political backlash.

But already, reports in the pro-Leung media are saying that Tsang has appointed a retired government official to run his campaign, giving Beijing the impression that he has made up his mind with or without its blessing.

The same reports say the central government did not like Tsang’s supposed decision to resign in order to focus the election.

They say Tsang had written to President Xi Jinping through the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office via a banker friend. Tsang was told to focus on his job.

Someone obviously does not want Tsang to run but is Beijing affected at all by these reports?

If Beijing cares about the feelings of Hong Kong people, it should turn its attention to Leung, stop him from running for a second term and pick a fresh face that could give us respite from the intense political struggles of the past four years.

In addition to a hostile establishment media, Tsang faces a potential challenge from Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.

Lam has made no secret of her dislike for Tsang by criticizing his financial and fiscal policies.

Some reports say Beijing prefers Lam to Tsang to replace Leung because she is a loyalist.

That said, the pro establishment media’s focus remains firmly on Tsang in a match-up with Leung, with the former being singled out for constant criticism.

The aim presumably is to bolster Leung’s public image.

The latest survey by the University of Hong Kong shows that 61 percent of respondents disapprove of Leung against 23 percent who support him.

Leung’s net support rate is negative 37 percentage points, up sharply from negative 50 in a previous survey and the first time since September it has broken negative 40.

It seems that Leung’s tough stance against the independence movement and the oath-taking fiasco in the Legislative Council has won back some support from the silent majority.

That could be a chance for Leung and his allies to go for another round of political battles to shore up his approval rating to positive territory.

And the media will continue to lap them up.

Hong Kong people still remember the surfeit of negative news that brought down Henry Tang during a brutal campaign, prompting Beijing to switch its support to Leung.

With that lesson in mind, Tsang and his rivals are better off keeping a low profile. 

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EJ Insight writer

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