23 August 2019
As the nomination period for the upcoming chief executive election is drawing closer, time is running out for John Tsang. Photo: AFP
As the nomination period for the upcoming chief executive election is drawing closer, time is running out for John Tsang. Photo: AFP

Can John Tsang turn the tables?

A couple of weeks before Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced that he would not run for a second term, I had written an article urging the pan-democrats to make good use of their 325 votes on the Election Committee to demand all CE candidates and potential contestants pledge to drop the legal challenge against the legitimacy of four localist lawmakers once elected in order to restore harmony.

This is an issue that both retired judge and CE candidate Woo Kwok-hing and Financial Secretary John Tsang cannot dodge, as both have vowed to give priority to restoring harmony to society and putting an end to polarization and deep divisions among the public once elected.

However, my reminder only received a lukewarm response from the pan-democrats. Nor did they bother to refute the pro-establishment camp’s contention that asking CE candidates to promise not to sue the four localist lawmakers amounts to interfering in ongoing legal proceedings and thereby violating our judicial independence.

I feel compelled to debunk the pro-establishment camps’ accusation because what they said is both deliberately misleading and completely nonsensical.

In fact, all I was proposing was to seek the withdrawal of the judicial review applications filed by the government against the four lawmakers.

It has nothing to do with the court whatsoever because the cases haven’t even come to trial yet. That said, how could my suggestion be violating our judicial independence?

The pro-establishment camp certainly knew their accusations were completely unfounded, but they still made them because as Beijing’s proxies they had to do so.

The problem is, with all their legal expertise and their star-studded team of barristers, why didn’t the pan-democrats dare to take my advice and require the CE candidates to promise not to press charges against the four localist lawmakers, not to mention refuting the pro-Beijing camp’s fabricated accusations?

In fact, the reason for the pan-democrats’ restraint and silence is simple. It is because Financial Secretary John Tsang, who is still awaiting Beijing’s approval of his resignation, and who is the pan-democrats’ favorite, is in political deep water now.

It has become increasingly obvious that Beijing doesn’t want John Tsang to run, and therefore it has continued to delay giving the green light to his resignation in an apparent attempt to force him to back down.

On the other hand, as political commentator Lau Nai-keung has pointed out in his recent article, there might be concern among the Beijing leaders that if they approve John Tsang’s resignation and allow him to run, they will also have to give Chief Secretary Carrie Lam the green light once she tenders her resignation.

With two of the three highest-ranking officials leaving their positions to run for CE, it might paralyse the entire SAR administration, which still has six months left in its term of office.

So is John Tsang’s CE bid completely at the mercy of Beijing? Not really. I suggest that Tsang need not wait for Beijing’s approval of his resignation. He can simply cancel his leave period and announce his candidacy immediately. Let’s not forget the Basic Law doesn’t bar any incumbent officeholders from running for CE.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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