24 June 2019
John Tsang is said to be struggling to secure at least 150 nominations to qualify as a chief executive candidate. Photo: HKEJ
John Tsang is said to be struggling to secure at least 150 nominations to qualify as a chief executive candidate. Photo: HKEJ

Will John Tsang suffer from split in democratic camp?

Nominations of candidates for the March 26 chief executive election will close next week, and there’s a distinct possibility that former financial secretary John Tsang – the most popular among the contenders according to the most recent surveys – won’t make it to the race.

It will certainly be a big letdown for the public if Tsang fails to secure at least 150 nominations from the 1,200-member Election Committee until March 1 in order to qualify as a candidate.

That could happen because many pro-establishment members of the panel, as well as democracy advocates, are hesitant or refuse to support him.

Although his inclusion in the race depends on how many members of the panel would back him, rather than how many would not, it is apparent to many political observers that Tsang is struggling to get the required number of nominations.

In the pan-democratic camp, those who refuse to give their blessings to Tsang cite his stance on political reform, which is that any realistic proposal must start with Beijing’s framework, and his support for the legislation of a national security law in Hong Kong.

These two political realities that any Hong Kong leader must face under China’s sovereignty, are the two key issues that democrats consider in deciding which candidate to support, rather than the extent of public support that the candidates have.

On Saturday, Alfred Wong Yam-hong, a representative of the medical sector in the Election Committee, said Democracy First, a group of pan-democratic members of the electoral panel, has decided to give 46 nominations to retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, citing his stance on the political reform and national security law legislation.

The group’s decision brings Woo’s total number of nominations to more than 50, a remarkable performance for a CE aspirant who has virtually no experience in public administration but still short of the requirement by about 100 votes.

Democracy First said they agree with Woo’s vision on political reform and enactment of anti-subversion legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law, as well as his proposal to enact a legislation on Article 22 of the Basic Law, which states that no mainland body can interfere in Hong Kong affairs administered by the SAR government.

As for Tsang, the group is waiting to see if the former financial chief will revise his election platform to add more elements that favor the democratic camp, such as relaunching political reform without any preconditions and putting the agenda of political reform on top of national security legislation.

The group said they need to be convinced of Tsang’s commitment to Hong Kong democracy before they can commit their votes, adding that they have yet to make a final decision on Tsang.

But the deadline for nominations is fast approaching, and Tsang is still way behind in terms of support.

He obviously has little to hope for in terms of support from Beijing loyalists, who have been pressured by the Liaison Office and other persuasive representatives of the central government to give their full commitment to former chief secretary Carrie Lam.

The 300-plus pan-democratic members of the Election Committee, on the other hand, appear to be fragmented as far as their support is concerned.

They can’t seem to recognize the fact that the chief executive election is a numbers game, and Lam, Beijing’s preferred candidate, has the numbers at this stage of the game.

It’s a pity because Tsang is so far the most well-prepared among the CE contenders with a  full version of an election platform – and solid support from the public.

According to the latest public poll by Now TV, released on Monday, Tsang leads his arch-rival Lam by around 10 percentage points.

Tsang’s support rate is 39.2 percent, down 2.5 percentage points, while Lam has 29.4 percent, up 4.4 percentage points.

Although Tsang’s rating has fallen slightly, he still enjoys enormous public support.

He continues to reach out to the public, despite knowing that his fate depends on a small circle of electors, who are dominated by pro-Beijing personalities.

Such a strategy may still work in convincing members of the Election Committee who have not yet made up their minds to throw their support behind his candidacy.

Tsang does not disclose how many nominations he has so far secured, but several media outfits have speculated that he has obtained only about 40 to 50 nominations, including seven from the Democratic Party, which has committed to support him to reflect the view of the public.

It has also been reported that 30 members from the Professional Teachers’ Union also plan to nominate Tsang.

Such developments, according to the Democratic Party, will ensure true competition with the “anointed” one, meaning Lam.

The party also warned that there could be widespread public anger if Tsang fails to secure enough nominations to become an official candidate as a result of the lack of support from Election Committee members.

Encouraged by strong support from the public, Tsang is eager to pursue political reform and national security legislation in a bid to end political turmoil, which has wrought havoc on social harmony and distracted the community from realizing its potentials.

However, the pan-democratic camp appears to be allergic to these two issues, as if a brave, sincere and honest visitation of these issues would work against the interests of Hong Kong people.

In fact, it is Tsang’s stand on these two issues that prompted Democracy First and several radical democrats to insist that they should not support Tsang.

But can any Hong Kong leader, who must account to Beijing’s top leaders and the Hong Kong people for his or her action, just ignore these two issues and choose not to touch them during his or her term of office?

Perhaps only “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, who is joining the race, can afford to do so, but that’s because he really doesn’t intend to qualify as a candidate, much less win the election.

He can very well afford to “fight for principles” and play to the fantasies of the democrats, but where will that lead?

The CE election is a battle between the fight to protect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and Beijing’s meddling in the city’s internal affairs.

Many democrats want to maintain the moral high ground and continue the fight for genuine democracy without Beijing intervention, as well as keep the lid on the legislation process for Article 23 of the Basic Law.

But the fact remains that Hong Kong people want to have their say on these issues, and they want to do that by supporting a candidate who they know will listen to them. Based on poll results, Tsang is that person.

In a speech before university students, Tsang made it clear that his election campaign is for the 7.5 million people of Hong Kong, and not just to satisfy the 1,200 members of the electoral panel.

Tsang deserves his high approval rating because he is willing to talk and listen to the public.

It would certainly be a big joke if a popular politician fails to win the support of the democratic camp.

Hong Kong people may have to rethink why they should support the democratic camp if Tsang fails to get into the race next week. 

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EJ Insight writer

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