19 May 2019
Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa greets Carrie Lam with a hug in a recent public event, a sign that Lam is the chosen one for the city’s top job. Photo: RTHK
Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa greets Carrie Lam with a hug in a recent public event, a sign that Lam is the chosen one for the city’s top job. Photo: RTHK

When it comes to CE elections, Beijing never misses

With the small-circle election for chief executive just a month away, some pro-democracy members of the Election Committee have vowed to make the election as competitive as possible by nominating two candidates, most likely retired judge Woo Kwok-hing and former financial secretary John Tsang, to run against Beijing’s favorite, former chief secretary Carrie Lam.

Their plan might sound feasible, albeit ambitious, but it is very likely that their efforts will prove futile in the end.

Under the “one country, two systems” framework, Beijing has a firm grip on the chief executive election, and election upsets are basically impossible.

It’s an open secret that Beijing has been aggressively pulling the strings behind the scenes and manipulating the outcomes over the years.

Once Beijing gives its orders, its proxies who hold three quarters of the seats on the Election Committee will automatically fall into line and cast their votes for the handpicked candidate. And Beijing has never missed.

From Beijing’s perspective, there is no fundamental difference between choosing the chief executive in Hong Kong and appointing the mayor of Beijing or the chief of Guangdong province.

In all of the above cases, the final decision rests with the general secretary of the Communist Party, i.e. President Xi Jinping.

Perhaps the only difference is that under the Basic Law, President Xi has to go through a formality, which is the CE election, when designating someone for the top job.

Over the years, I have been studying Beijing’s pattern in choosing successors for political office.

I have found that when it comes to key personnel appointments, the two most important criteria for the Communist Party are: 1. whether that person has longstanding connections with the top brass, and 2. whether that person is completely trustworthy.

These criteria apparently apply to choosing the chief executive for Hong Kong, too. In other words, when it comes to choosing the next CE, a candidate’s popularity might serve as a useful reference but is by no means a decisive factor.

Ever since President Xi  took power, the mainland has witnessed a massive return to the leftist track.

In order to tighten his control over the party and reinforce his personal dictatorship, Xi has put particular emphasis on absolute obedience, absolute loyalty and absolute submission to the authority of the party leadership.

Apparently, the so-called “three absolutes” also apply to the next chief executive of Hong Kong.

Recently, I have met with a mainland academic who was on a brief visit to Hong Kong.

He believes that Beijing has already designated Lam as the next CE and is now working aggressively to make sure she is going to win by a significant margin in next month’s election.

While it remains to be seen whether what he said is true, several recent events may provide us with certain clues about whether Lam is the anointed one.

Firstly, there was former chief executive and current vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Tung Chee-hwa greeting Lam with a kiss on the cheek during a public event, a rare gesture from such a high-ranking person like him.

That unusual gesture reminds us of former president Jiang Zemin’s famous handshake with Tung 20 years ago. In my opinion, that kiss was by no means coincidental.

Secondly, Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee recently visited Shenzhen and had a meeting with pro-establishment heavyweights, during which he expressed in no uncertain terms that the politiburo had made a unanimous decision to support Lam.

Last but not least, there has been a stampede among pro-Beijing loyalists to publicly praise Lam.

These clues suggest that Lam is very much in favor with Beijing. My bet is she can at least at 700 votes, or even 800 from the 1,200-member election committee.

As far as Woo Kwok-hing and John Tsang are concerned, they might be able to get the endorsement of 150 Election Committee members and officially enter the race, but they won’t stand a fighting chance against Lam in the election.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 16

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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