All eyes are on John Tsang after his resignation as financial secretary was approved by Beijing on Monday.
Several media outlets reported on Tuesday that Tsang is expected to announce his candidacy for Hong Kong chief executive on Thursday.
Tsang has assembled his campaign team that includes Permanent Secretary for Civil Service Rebecca Lai, former permanent secretary for health, welfare and food Lee Suk-yee, his former political assistant Julian Law and his former press secretary Patrick Wong.
But some key supporters such as executive councilor Bernard Chan and barrister Laurence Li are now key officials of Carrie Lam’s campaign.
Reports say Tsang’s prospective candidacy is facing opposition from Beijing’s Liaison Office, which might explain why the former financial secretary has yet to say whether or not he is running.
Some observers say he is worried that he might not get the 150 votes needed to be nominated by the 1,200-member Election Committee while others say he is under pressure from Beijing not to join the race.
Tsang was the first government official to hint at running for the top job after Leung Chun-ying announced that he would not be seeking a second term.
Tsang lost some ground when Beijing sat on his resignation. This allowed some critics and Leung loyalists to mount a campaign against him.
All these questions will be answered when Tsang finally makes the announcement.
But at this moment, it’s safe to say that Lam, who is supported by the mainstream pro-Beijing media, has stolen a march on him.
Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, two Beijing-owned mouthpieces, played up Lam’s candidacy on their front pages on Tuesday, while Oriental Daily News, which used to be a core pro-Leung newspaper, played down Lam’s press conference.
Sing Pao, another pro-Beijing daily, reported Lam’s story but added a feature on John Tsang inside. It also published a full-page advertisement that some Beijing officials are falsely putting Lam as Beijing’s only choice.
Such media coverage shows the Beijing-controlled media will go one way or the other, depending on the dictates of the bosses in Beijing.
We saw this in 2012 when they switched their support to Leung from Henry Tang just weeks before the vote.
On Tuesday morning, Leung praised Lam for her capability and willingness to take on responsibilities.
Speaking before the weekly Executive Council meeting, Leung described Lam as an official who is “willing to tackle longstanding problems”.
“The next chief executive can lead the new government and work hard to respond to society’s demands on aspects such as poverty alleviation, housing and care for the elderly,” Leung said.
While he did not mention Lam by name, it was quite clear he was referring to her.
It might Leung’s strategy to put Lam in a front-running position ahead of Tsang in terms of getting Beijing’s blessing.
This is being interpreted as a signal that the Liaison Office is meddling in the election.
With the Liaison Office hardly hiding its intention to be Lam’s king maker, it is causing grief to Regina Ip, who had declared her candidacy ahead of Lam. On Tuesday, Ip broke down at Leung’s praise for Lam.
Ip, chairwoman of the New People’s Party, said she, too, is willing to shoulder responsibilities.
She said she had held herself accountable by resigning as secretary for security after failing to get public support for a proposed national security law in 2003.
Meanwhile, Elsie Leung, a pro-Beijing veteran, said four candidates would be “too many”, raising speculation that some Beijing loyalists close to the Liaison Office are working to limit the number of contenders.
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