The world has seen two “black swans” — or completely unexpected events — within the short span of six months: the first one was the Brexit vote in June and the second was Donald Trump’s odds-defying victory in the US presidential election in November.
Will Hong Kong’s chief executive race to be held in March turn out to be another black swan?
In theory, it won’t.
In a genuine suffrage where people cast their ballots according their free will, the outcome can be hard to predict. But Hong Kong’s top leader is not elected in this open and fair manner.
When a 1,200-member election committee stacked with Beijing loyalists is told by their mainland chiefs to rubber stamp a pre-selected candidate, there’s no likelihood of a “black swan” scenario since the script is there.
The irony of Hong Kong politics is that average Hongkongers would consider it a “black swan” if Leung Chun-ying wins a second term. It must come as a crippling shock to most Hong Kong people if Leung is “reelected”.
Here are some reasons Beijing would want Leung to stay.
Some thought Leung’s victory in 2012 was a “surprise” thanks to a slew of scandals that brought down Henry Tang.
It’s doubtful if they still think that Leung’s success was just a strange quirk given Beijing’s gradual but steady policy tweaks to tame the special administrative region.
Picking Leung in 2012 was part of Beijing’s plan for an iron-fisted approach. Beijing has made it clear since then that “one country” overrides Hong Kong’s own system and Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy” is there only when Beijing allows it.
Loyalty first and foremost
Whoever turns out to be the chief executive is instrumental to Beijing’s new policy to put Hong Kong on a tight leash.
But under the facade of “one country, two systems”, Beijing has to rely on the chief executive to achieve that end, thus only the most loyal and trustworthy “comrade-in-arm” can take the job.
This is the top — and maybe the only — requirement for the CE candidate.
Is there anyone else in Hong Kong’s political circus who is better at doing Beijing’s bidding than Leung?
Remember all the dirty jobs Leung has done for Beijing.
The past few years under Leung can be called a Hong Kong tragedy.
The Leung administration is somewhat reminiscent of the Manchukuo government, Japan’s puppet state in northeast China and Inner Mongolia in the 1930s.
Hongkongers today have become inured to Beijing’s sting-pulling in every aspect of local politics. The communist cadres up north have made no bones about all these excesses.
With its own “yes” men heading up government and public bodies and red capital permeating the local financial market, Beijing now almost has Hong Kong in its palm.
There are only two last bastions yet to be crushed: the judiciary and the civil service, both heritage of British rule.
But perhaps it’s just a matter of time before Beijing conquers the judges and civil servants. Beijing needs Leung to finish the job.
How Beijing is helping Leung
Not a few believe that other CE hopefuls have a chance given that Beijing is yet to signal who is its favorite.
There’s only one reason for Beijing’s procrastination — it wants its good boy Leung to remain in Tamar but it is also mindful of the likely public uproar.
For now Beijing can afford to stay put and the tactic is doing every good for Leung as well.
As the incumbent, he has every opportunity and the resources to steer the whole situation to his own advantage, running a campaign without announcing it.
But his potential rivals such as John Tsang and Carrie Lam (she said she would retire but many are skeptical), have increasingly found themselves in an awkward position.
Time is sliding away before the March vote and even if they can announce their respective bids later, they will be hard put to launch their campaigns.
Given Tsang’s and Lam’s political upbringing — they both started as punctilious administrative officers — they won’t dare to stand without Beijing’s go-ahead.
Beijing is still holding its tongue when Tsang, as rumored, has made every intention to run.
For now Beijing can’t find a compelling reason to discourage him given his high popularity among Hongkongers and his strong performance as financial chief.
Delaying Tsang’s plan effectively eliminates his odds of competing against Beijing’s own man.
This article appeared in the December issue of the Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly
Translation by Frank Chen with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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