20 July 2019
When Tung Chee-hwa gave Carrie Lam a hug last year (inset), he sparked speculation Lam was Beijing's preferred candidate for chief executive. Photo: HKEJ, RTHK
When Tung Chee-hwa gave Carrie Lam a hug last year (inset), he sparked speculation Lam was Beijing's preferred candidate for chief executive. Photo: HKEJ, RTHK

How Beijing is stepping up its campaign to influence election

It’s quite strange that no chief executive contenders have submitted their nominations to the electoral office until now, seven days before the nomination period ends.

However, pro-Beijing loyalists are trying their best to create a scenario in which former chief secretary Carrie Lam is appointed chief executive by Beijing even before the 1,200 members of the Election Committee cast their votes on March 26.

The latest speculation is that Lam, John Tsang and Woo Kwok-hing will qualify for the race, with Regina, who earlier said she might have been sacrificed by Beijing, not able to make it.

Tsang and Woo are tipped to receive 150 to 160 nominations each, enough to bring them over the threshold for nomination.

Beijing once again leveraged its official machinery and the local media to affect the campaign.

Wang Guangya, head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office reportedly visited Shenzhen recently to talk to some Hong Kong politicians about Beijing’s choice for the top job.

Carrie Lam’s name emerged from the meeting after she was singled out by Wang and Tsang was ignored for “lacking commitment” to “one country, two systems”.

Then Wen Wei Po, a Hong Kong-based Beijing mouthpiece, ran a full-page coverage of how Tsang has been supposedly begging for nominations from pro-democracy Election Committee members.

It criticized Tsang for his weak stance on political reform and national security issues and questioned his commitment to maintaining China’s interests in Hong Kong.

On the same day, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa reportedly told a closed-door meeting that Beijing would not accept Tsang even if he wins.

The news was later clarified by some pro-Beijing loyalists who said it was a tactic by someone to negatively affect Lam’s campaign.

It’s quite difficult for outsiders to verify the accuracy of Tung’s statement. Only those who attended the meeting can do so. The best outcome is for Tung to talk to the media to explain his views.

But this is not the first time the pro-Beijing camp and the central government have expressed their stance on the election.

In the early stage of her campaign in January, Lam told a closed-door meeting that she decided to run to avoid a scenario in which Beijing will refuse to accept the winner of the election, thereby creating a constitutional crisis.

Lam immediately clarified she was not referring to any particular candidate but many speculated her target was Tsang.

Now there’s talk that Beijing has picked Lam as the anointed one and is pressing the Election Committee to nominate her and vote for her come election day.

Lam reportedly has secured about 400 nominations and could submit them this Friday at the earliest — less than the previously anticipated 600 nominations.

Beijing’s initial plan was for Lam to win more than half of the votes in the nominating contest which should help her coast to an easy victory in the election — more than the 689 votes that propelled Leung Chun-ying in 2012.

But the fact is that Beijing cannot control all the Election Committee members, especially when all the potential contenders are from the pro-establishment camp.

It’s possible some of the members have already made up their minds as to their chosen candidate.

Beijing’s recent moves show its distrust of the Hong Kong elites to do its bidding. It’s now up to Beijing loyalists to demonstrate their loyalty to the central government.

Earlier this week, Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing declined to name his favored candidate, much less reveal his choice for the March 26 vote.

Another tycoon, Lui Chi-woo, also refused to say whether he will nominate a candidate.

Many Election Committee members from the business sector remain tight-lipped about their own preference, sparking speculation they could be Tsang supporters.

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EJ Insight writer

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