Date
18 October 2017
Carrie Lam has started throwing brickbats at her chief rival, but her efforts have yet to significantly boost her popularity ratings. Photo: HKEJ
Carrie Lam has started throwing brickbats at her chief rival, but her efforts have yet to significantly boost her popularity ratings. Photo: HKEJ

Carrie Lam, pro-Beijing camp escalate attacks on John Tsang

It’s as clear as day that the pro-Beijing camp is throwing its support behind Carrie Lam in next month’s chief executive election, although the actual, direct and categorical endorsement may not be forthcoming.

Lam is still lagging behind her chief rival John Tsang in popularity ratings, but who cares, really? It’s not the Hong Kong people who will decide who will be their next leader.

And although Beijing’s top leaders are not expected to reveal their preferred candidate in the race, the Liaison Office of the central government in Hong Kong has been sparing no effort in spreading the word that Lam is the chosen one.

It has been urging members of the election committee not to bother with candidates who don’t have Beijing’s endorsement.

It is working particularly hard on business tycoons and professionals who seem to prefer the former financial secretary for the city’s top job.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s largest pro-Beijing political party with more than a hundred votes in the election committee, is also solidly behind Lam, even though its chairperson Starry Lee said the party has yet to decide on the matter.

Based on what Lee has said over the past few days, the party is backing Lam. In fact, its two deputy chairpersons – Brave Chan and Horace Cheung – are joining Lam’s campaign team.

The DAB has clearly shown that it dislikes Tsang. It listed four “key expectations” for Hong Kong’s next leader.

These include “creating a new path” in political development, “adjusting the attitude toward financial reserves and sharing the fruits of development with those in need”, increasing Hong Kong’s competitiveness “as a world super-connector”, and making “accurate predictions on government earnings”.

These criteria are obviously meant to embarrass Tsang, who has been accused of failing to make accurate fiscal estimates when he was financial secretary.

In fact, Lam herself and her boss, outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, have criticized Tsang’s conservative approach to public spending, citing the need for the government to spend more to serve the public and meet its growing needs.

It’s correct to say that providing accurate estimates of government earnings is not Tsang’s strong suit, but blaming the former financial chief for such inadequacy is not fair.

The government derives most of its revenue from land sales, and it’s quite hard to forecast earnings from such a source given the volatility of the Hong Kong property market in the past decade.

Lam and her supporters are obviously harping on this issue to push Tsang into a corner, but to say that the former financial chief is not fit to rule Hong Kong on the basis of this sole criterion is laughable.

After all, Tsang’s competence as financial secretary has been proven by the fact that he has served the post honorably for nine consecutive years, and Hong Kong, during that period, has never faced any major risk as far as its financial situation is concerned.

Of course, Lam and her loyalists may choose to continue throwing this “dirt” at her chief rival, but it won’t stick, and it has not helped in improving her ratings at all.

In a media interview on Wednesday, Lam recalled Tsang’s refusal to take questions from four opposition lawmakers during a Legislative Council meeting in December, saying that his action had threatened to damage the relationship between the government and the legislature.

Tsang had said he refused to take the lawmakers’ questions upon the advice of the Department of Justice. He also cited a letter submitted by Lam herself to the Legco president in November.

However, Lam praised herself for being able to settle the issue and prevent a deadlock.

Clearly, Lam is using the case to build her image as a better communicator with the democrats than Tsang.

Meanwhile, the Heung Yee Kuk, which dominates the rural villages in the New Territories, has maintained a neutral stance on the election; it has yet to announce its preferred candidate.

The Kuk had previously manifested its support for Lam but on Wednesday a leader of the group stated that Tsang is Hong Kong’s future leader.

The Kuk may be taking a different approach when it comes to the chief executive election. Its stance may also been seen as an indication that Beijing’s top leaders have yet to decided on “the chosen one”.

The DAB is the city’s largest political party, dominating the district councils and the legislature.

It is a pro-Beijing party, which means its loyalty is to the central government, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is working for Hong Kong’s interest.

The DAB’s support for Lam implies that she could face pressure from DAB, the Liaison Office and other Beijing loyalists once she assumes power.

Tsang, on the other hand, maintains his strong connection with the Hong Kong people, and that implies he could depend on public support if he wins the election.

Sadly, though, the people, except for the 1,200 members of the election committee, can’t vote in the election.

Nonetheless, public support is important for it provides legitimacy to the government.

And engaging in election campaign tactics will not necessarily secure the people’s support.

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SC/AC/CG

EJ Insight writer

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