20 February 2019
There is speculation that Carrie Lam has already been picked by Beijing as its preferred candidate for Hong Kong's top job. Photo: HKEJ
There is speculation that Carrie Lam has already been picked by Beijing as its preferred candidate for Hong Kong's top job. Photo: HKEJ

Why CE candidates must not be screened at nomination stage

In my article last week I urged pro-establishment members of the Election Committee (EC) to not rubberstamp whoever Beijing handpicks for the office of the next CE, advising them that they should instead cast their votes based on their own free will and conscience.

Over the past week things have taken quite a dramatic turn. According to widespread media reports, many pro-establishment members of the EC have recently received messages from Beijing sources confirming that former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has already been chosen for the top job, and therefore they must endorse and nominate her unanimously to ensure she becomes an official candidate.

There is also talk that having taken the lesson from the last CE election, in which CY Leung only got a marginal 689 votes and became a subject of mockery since then, Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong is now on a mission to ensure that Lam will get elected with at least 700 votes in the upcoming election in order to boost her credibility.

Such reports and rumors have provoked quite a backlash from among the pro-democracy camp, which vowed to leave no stone unturned in standing out against Beijing’s manipulation in the election. To do that, they said they may use their 325 votes to nominate more than one candidate in order to make the election more competitive.

So far neither the Liaison Office nor any key mainland official has commented on the rumors or clarified their position on the upcoming CE election. However, one might still remember that during a TV interview broadcast in the mainland on New Year’s Day, Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Liaison Office, reiterated in no uncertain terms that the central authorities will fully respect, as always, the well-established social and political system in Hong Kong and will refrain from interfering in the purely internal affairs of the Special Administrative Region.

Director Zhang’s pledges call into serious question whether Beijing’s alleged demand for unanimous support among the pro-establishment EC members for Carrie Lam might constitute an outright interference in our internal affairs.

Some might argue that the chief executive election is not a purely internal affair of Hong Kong because according to the Basic Law, the ultimate power over whether to accept the election outcome and officially appoint the elected candidate as CE rests with Beijing, not us. Therefore the central government hasn’t overstepped its jurisdiction by asking pro-establishment EC members to support a particular candidate.

I agree that this might be a political reality to which the people of Hong Kong may have to resign themselves.

However, my point is, the credibility of such a small-circle election will definitely be further undermined if the Liaison Office blatantly intervenes in as early as the nomination stage of the election and barring other pro-establishment candidates from running in order to make sure their “chosen one” will win by a landslide.

How can Beijing convince the people of Hong Kong that it is committed to facilitating democracy in our city as promised in the Basic Law if it won’t even allow competition among the pro-establishment candidates themselves?

Besides, according to Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Office of the State Council, one of Beijing’s key criteria for choosing the next CE is whether the candidate is patriotic, reliable from the central government’s perspective, competent and popular among the people of Hong Kong.

I believe that all the existing candidates are able to meet these criteria. Given that, I believe they all deserve an equal chance to run and try to convince Beijing, the EC members and the general public that are cut out for the top job.

Given the circumstances, it is my sincere belief that in order to boost the credibility of the CE election, to enhance its fairness and make it more competitive, candidates should not be subject to screening by Beijing at the nomination stage. As long as a candidate fulfils the requirement laid down by director Wang, he or she should be allowed to run.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 25

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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