With Beijing’s top leaders tight-lipped on their preferred candidate for Hong Kong chief executive, one contender has created the impression that she is the chosen one.
Former chief secretary Carrie Lam, whose statements appear to suggest she is Beijing’s favorite, could get into trouble for indirectly exposing its secrets.
Many political observers and pro-Beijing loyalists are asking whether Beijing can trust her.
Over the weekend, Lam denied making remarks attacking her rivals in the race after she appeared to suggest that one or more of them would not be acceptable to Beijing.
The comments were interpreted as being directed at former financial secretary John Tsang.
Lam was quoted as saying behind closed doors that she decided to stand in the election in March to prevent a “worst-case scenario” where the central government refuses to appoint the election winner, triggering a constitutional crisis.
Lam said she had simply made a factual comment based on the Basic Law requirement that Beijing has the final say on whether to appoint the candidate chosen by Hong Kong’s 1,200-strong Election Committee.
But the remarks no doubt put her in an awkward situation in terms of her political loyalty to Beijing.
There is widespread speculation that the Liaison Office is behind Lam’s candidacy after Leung Chun-ying said he would not be seeking a second term.
However, several political observers say the Liaison Office does not reflect Beijing’s wishes on the matter.
The conflict has to do with a power struggle within the Communist Party in which the Liaison Office tries to keep its grip on Hong Kong.
It’s difficult for the public to understand why Lam would disparage the other candidates and think of herself as the only one qualified to be chief executive.
It’s possible she was trying to send a signal to the Election Committee not to waste their votes on the other hopefuls. A candidate needs at least 150 votes to be nominated.
But the most critical part of this whole saga is that Lam might have misrepresented senior Beijing officials with her remarks.
It could lead to a whole new set of problems for her including Beijing souring on her candidacy if not actively seeking to oust her.
In fact, there is no sign Beijing is leaning one way or another. When it approved the resignations of Lam and Tsang on the same day last week, it did so without giving a hint of things to come.
Beijing should have no problem with the outcome, with the election winner needing only 601 votes from the 1,200-strong election. The opposition camp holds 325 votes.
It’s likely Beijing will approve whoever wins the election given that the election committee is packed with its own loyalists.
What Lam said behind closed doors only showed her ignorance of the political reality, never mind that she had been in charge of a campaign to introduce political reform in the past two years.
Beijing’s refusal to indicate its preference could be a double-edge sword. The candidates must strike a balance between winning support from the small-circle election panel and getting the public behind them.
Lam and her backers could put pressure on the Election Committee to endorse her but that would be at the expense of public opinion. Tsang is still the most popular among the aspirants.
It could be quite impractical for Beijing to embrace Lam if her public approval rating tanks as a result of recent events.
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