23 May 2019
Carrie Lam appears to be leading the race for 150 nominations even as she continues to benefit from lobbying by Beijing's Liaison Office. Photos: HKEJ, Reuters
Carrie Lam appears to be leading the race for 150 nominations even as she continues to benefit from lobbying by Beijing's Liaison Office. Photos: HKEJ, Reuters

Why Carrie Lam won’t say no to Beijing’s meddling

Today is the start of the two-week nomination process for next month’s chief executive election, and already, it is looking like Carrie Lam’s to lose.

Judging from her early support, Lam leads the race to secure 150 votes — the magic number to garner official nomination.

That’s all that really matters.

Although John Tsang still has the highest public approval rating among the candidates, everything comes down to the members of the Election Committee who will decide who should run in the race and eventually vote on the next chief executive.

Lam, the former chief secretary, is said to have secured the backing of several leading pro-Beijing organizations such as the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Friends of Hong Kong Association has said it will give its 200 nominations to Lam. 

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the biggest pro-Beijing bloc, and Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong have also endorsed Lam.

Lam could collect all the nominations she needs early in the process and cruise toward the end with plenty of time to spare.

Tsang is said to have secured the backing of less than 20 Election Committee members which would make his effort an uphill climb.

Already, Lam seems to enjoy the status of a frontrunner.

She might not need to bother herself with a detailed election platform and leave everything until July 1 when she could presumably take office.

So with the nomination looking increasingly in the bag, does she need all the lobbying by the Liaison Office?

Apparently so.

In an interview with former lawmaker Emily Lau, Lam was asked whether she would ask the Liaison Office to stop canvassing support for her.

“Why should I say no to the Liaison Office?” Lam said.

In this regard, Lam has an ally in former justice secretary Elsie Leung, vice chairperson of Beijing’s Basic Law Committee.

“Anybody can lobby. I think you can also do that, I can also do that – so long as the lobbying is done in accordance with the law, I don’t think there’s anything wrong about that,” she said.

“Doesn’t the Liaison Office also have freedom of speech? Don’t they have the right to express themselves? 

The Beijing loyalist said she does not think lobbying amounts to intervention. She also said voters can express their free will because it’s a secret ballot.

Of course, all this could be academic. The outcome could already have been set by Beijing.

The election has nothing to do with the general public but the three other candidates — Tsang, Regina Ip and Woo Kwok-hing — are bringing the campaign out into the open in a bid to secure popular support.

These three candidates are determined to compete for Hong Kong’s top job, not to become a puppet of Beijing.

By contrast, Lam appears to be taking it all in stride, confident in the thought that the goal is within reach.

Which is why she has not been going out to the community to talk to the grassroots. Instead, she has been spending most of her time making deals with pro-Beijing loyalists for the nomination. 

Hong Kong people understand that Beijing’s role in the election campaign amounts to meddling.

Article 22 of the Basic Law prohibits mainland officials from getting involved in Hong Kong’s affairs. That is the core of the “one country, two systems” principle.

Many critics say the Liaison Office has overstepped the bounds by openly promoting Lam — from building public opinion to boost her profile to making phone calls to Election Committee members.

Beijing sees nothing wrong with this but it will not allow, say, a party from another country, to do the same thing for whichever candidate.

One could say that Beijing is Hong Kong’s sovereign but again the argument flies in the face of “one country, two systems”.  

To be fair to all the candidates, Beijing should step aside in this nomination period and sit out the election, and let the Election Committee members make up their own minds.

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EJ Insight writer

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