21 February 2019
Carrie Lam, CY Leung and John Tsang (inset from left) are shown in this 2012 file photos when Leung first took office. Photos: HKEJ
Carrie Lam, CY Leung and John Tsang (inset from left) are shown in this 2012 file photos when Leung first took office. Photos: HKEJ

Is John Tsang savvy enough to take on CY?

John Tsang was outhustled by Leung Chun-ying and Carrie Lam in the Legislative Council where the financial secretary was caught in an embarrassing U-turn on Monday.

After saying that he would not take questions from the four legislators who are the subject of a judicial review filed by the government regarding their status, Tsang announced that he was now open to questions from them.

It turned out that Chief Secretary Carrie Lam had made the decision to allow the four to question the government.

Tsang was blindsided but he had to break the news.

It must be pointed out that Tsang was merely carrying out orders from his bosses at Tamar.

But it was his bad luck that the whole thing exploded during his turn at the podium.

The sight of Tsang, a potential chief executive candidate, being lambasted by legislators must have looked interesting, to say the least, to Leung and Lam. Both are widely expected to contend for the top job.

Leung was the first to break his silence over the saga in so many words by distancing himself from it.

“I don’t know why he did it,” Leung said.”Before he [Tsang] spoke at the Legislative Council, he did seek legal advice.

“But based on this legal advice, I believe he did not have to refuse to answer questions from the four lawmakers because we place a lot of importance on executive-legislative relations.”

Leung said it was Tsang’s personal decision not to take questions from the four.

At issue was whether they had the standing to ask questions in the face of a legal challenge against their status.

Tsang did seek and receive legal advice on  Sunday. But if the Department of Justice thought there was no point for principal officials not to respond to the four lawmakers, why did it give such legal advice?

It was a cunning move on Leung’s part to wash his hands over the whole affair given that it was he and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen who brought the judicial review challenge.

Was Tsang set up in an ambush by Leung and Lam? No one knows.

But the incident shows that Tsang can be a good follower but with much less compelling instincts to lead.

Also, he showed that he was true to the legal advice given to him by the justice department but did not have the foresight to factor in his own calculation.

It’s clear that all lawmakers should have the right to question senior officials.

Tsang, indeed, could have used the opportunity to demonstrate an open mind rather than perform like a blind Beijing loyalist.

In this round at least, Tsang lost to Leung but he should expect more of the same maneuvers as the March election draws closer.

The fact is that the government has been transformed into a campaign office.

Still, Tsang enjoys a high approval rating compared with Leung, who has been deeply unpopular, and Lam.

That continues to be his strength. 

But if Tsang wants to replace Leung as chief executive, he should have the political awareness and savvy to take him on.

A good-guy demeanor in this instance is not good enough. 

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe