26 April 2019
If Beijing wanted someone as hard-line as Leung to be the next chief executive, the easiest way would have been to let him have a second term. Photo: HKEJ
If Beijing wanted someone as hard-line as Leung to be the next chief executive, the easiest way would have been to let him have a second term. Photo: HKEJ

Why the next CE is unlikely to be a hawk

As the chief executive election draws closer, it seems there are more variables that will determine the outcome of the race.

However, at least one thing is certain — Leung Chun-ying will not be seeking a second-term.

Leung’s sudden withdrawal from the race prompted potential hopefuls to reconsider whether or not they will run for the top job, among them Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.

Lam repeatedly said she is determined to retire once she serves out her term but she said last week that she will rethink her decision, adding “events had taken a drastic turn”.

She also said that she is not worried about coming under fire for flip-flopping if she finally decides to take part in the election.

Other CE hopefuls such as lawmaker and former security chief Regina Ip and Financial Secretary John Tsang, who tendered his resignation yesterday, are working aggressively to organize their campaigns.

Even former Legco president Jasper Tsang, who has remained equivocal over whether he would run, has become more explicit about his stance. Last week, he said he would not rule out the possibility of joining the race.

As retired judge Woo Kwok-hing has already announced his candidacy and Regina Ip and John Tsang are expected to do so very soon, while Carrie Lam and Jasper Tsang have also expressed interest in running, there might be as many as five candidates in the CE election.

That would make it the most competitive and crowded field since 1997.

As far as the so-called “ABC” camp (“Anyone but CY”) is concerned, CY Leung’s withdrawal has not given them much relief. Many fear that the next chief executive could be just as ruthless, hawkish and hard-line as CY Leung.

Is their concern justified? 

Judging from recent events, we believe that the next chief executive is unlikely to be a hawk.

Rather, our next leader is likely to be a hybrid of hawk and dove — someone who will take no prisoners over separatism but who will also seek reconciliation with the opposition camp, help different factions across our political spectrum find common ground on key social issues and restore harmony in our highly polarized society.

Beijing would not have let CY Leung go while it also extends the olive branch to the pan-democrats by offering to give them back their Home Returning Permits if it wanted to continue with its hard-line approach to Hong Kong in the next five years.

In fact, Beijing’s recent friendly gestures apparently suggest that it is also seeking change and flexibility in its approach to Hong Kong.

That said, we have enough reasons to believe that Beijing is likely to adopt a carrot-and-stick approach i.e., taking a hard line over separatism while seeking constructive dialogue with the relatively moderate pro-democracy camp.

To do that, Beijing needs someone who can gain the trust of the pro-establishment and pro-democracy camps and who can act as a lubricant among different political factions.

The problem is, even if a person with those qualities becomes the next CE, can he or she resolve our deep-rooted social conflicts and mend fences in our highly divided society? All we can do is wait and see.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 13

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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