Thirty days after he quit his job as Hong Kong’s financial chief on Dec. 12, John Tsang is still waiting for a response from Beijing.
His resignation, which is meant to clear the way for his bid for the city’s top job, remains pending, and it appears the mandarins in Zhongnanhai simply don’t give a hoot.
Perhaps he himself didn’t envisage such an embarrassing, if unexplained, delay, but he is certainly becoming the city’s laughing stock.
After all, he has dropped all the hints that he wanted to become the next chief executive, and he never received any plain signal from officials in Beijing that they had some reservations.
In short, he has become the personification of what is ridiculous about a system that supposedly grants the territory a “high degree of autonomy” yet requires an official like him to secure an imperial consent even if he just wants to leave.
And, should the overlords do nothing and remain mum, as they are doing now, there’s really nothing he can do other than stay put.
There’s no clause in the Basic Law stating that resignation by an official in the special administrative region is subject to Beijing’s approval.
Local laws bar incumbent officials from running without resigning first, but a government job is like any other job: you give a 30-day notice and then you’re free to go.
So, Mr. Tsang, what are you waiting for? That’s the question of retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who was the first to throw his hat into the ring.
Beijing’s inaction has also highlighted Tsang’s profound cowardice, which could be said of any official in the face of the subtlest threat or bullying from the north.
Popularity polls may show him leading the race among declared and likely CE candidates.
But he owes much of his popularity to the fact that he didn’t have to handle any hot potatoes as the financial chief.
And despite his benign image, there is no guarantee he can handle a prickly conundrum or crisis situation any better than Leung Chun-ying.
Rumors started to fly earlier this week that Chief Secretary Carrie Lam would also resign this Thursday to kickstart her own election campaign.
Beijing’s approval of her resignation – and the timing of such an approval in relation to its action on Tsang’s resignation – would give a clear indication of its preference.
We stand by our view that Tsang is but an also-ran even if he can enter the race as Beijing doesn’t trust him as much as Lam, and ousting Leung – under the pretext of Leung’s care for his family – does not mean Beijing has made a radical, if conciliatory, change in its Hong Kong policy.
Lam has been running her campaign without announcing it, and attending a high-profile banquet hosted by the city’s fat cats last weekend is just one example of it.
Having inherited CY Leung’s base, Lam is now focusing on consolidating her support in the business sector, where not a few bigwigs who used to side with Tsang are now wondering what went wrong with Mr. Pringles’ ties with Beijing.
Many of them have essentially grasped Beijing’s sentiments and are now rushing to buy “political insurance” by jumping to Lam’s camp. Anyway, business people are business people.
And, if you think the controversy over the Palace Museum in West Kowloon is hurting Lam’s chances in the election, you are woefully wrong.
In a “small circle election”, what ordinary Hongkongers say or think about the raging issues of the day or how they feel about a particular candidate is the last thing that matters.
And quite contrary to the public view, her handling of the whole matter, “brave and decisive” in her own words, may be earning her some extra points in Beijing.
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