21 October 2018
Carrie Lam will "win" this election but it will be a hollow victory and she can forget about claiming that she has won the people’s mandate. Photo: HKEJ
Carrie Lam will "win" this election but it will be a hollow victory and she can forget about claiming that she has won the people’s mandate. Photo: HKEJ

Why Carrie Lam can only look forward to a pyrrhic victory

It seems that the democrats have finally learned something about tactics, with the result that they managed to have an impact on the alleged chief executive election that has impressively undermined this rigged process.

There are, of course, dangers in bestowing some kind of legitimacy on a basically undemocratic election but I have come to believe that it is both defeatist and foolhardy to simply dismiss the existing unfair constitutional structure without, at the very least, attempting to have some impact on its functioning.

The shrewder members of the democratic camp identified the chief executive election as an opportunity to campaign among the very small part of the electorate that is able to take part in this poll.

In so doing they largely addressed a middle class professional constituency which was highly receptive to their ideas. These are the very people most likely to play a long-term role in achieving more fundamental reform.

This campaign to get democrats involved in the Election Committee was spectacularly successful in as much as in every sector of the EC poll where there was some semblance of a democratic vote the democrats won more or less all the places up for election.

So, the democratic camp emerged with 326 or a quarter of the members of the Election Committee, not enough to determine the outcome but certainly enough to exert influence.

The more stupid democrats urged those holding a vote not to exercise it on grounds that none of the candidates had sufficiently sound democratic credentials.

Leung Kwok-hung then blundered into the fray with a typically shambolic attempt to stand on behalf of the democrats. Not only was his campaign shambolic so was his explanation of why he was standing, after decades of insisting that no democrat should do so.

A more plausible democratic candidate could have done a far better job but, lamentably, no one volunteered. Had they done so, they would definitely have secured enough nominations to enter the race and would have had an opportunity to use the campaign, along with considerable media exposure, to make the case for a genuine election.

However, there is no point in dwelling on what might have happened. Instead, let’s look at what actually happened. First up, votes from the democrats ensured that Beijing’s nominee, Carrie Lam, will face competition in the election.

Secondly, the democrats had some influence on the platforms and attitudes of both Woo Kwok-hing and John Tsang, who were reliant on them for votes. They were not transformed into newly minted democrats but they were forced to keep well away from saying things that they knew would alienate the democratic constituency.

Thirdly, the high profile and active involvement of the democrats in this election sent the Beijing authorities and their supporters into panic mode.

Beijing was forced to reveal its controlling hand in a way that was better concealed during previous elections. Any illusions of this being a genuine democratic exercise have been put to bed for good.

Moreover, the sycophants and office seekers who clamored to nominate Lam, as instructed, have lost yet more credibility as they rushed to give their nominations before she had even issued a full platform. Then they were forced to go out and say that there was no need for an election based on the people’s choice. What mattered, they said, was Beijing’s choice.

The net result remains that Carrie Lam will “win” this election but it will be a shabby victory and she can forget any idea of claiming that she has won the people’s mandate to govern.

Indeed, the few opinion polls that have been conducted show she is not the most popular candidate. At least at the beginning of their terms of office, the first three chief executives actually managed to top polls of this kind. But not Lam who will emerge with a pyrrhic victory and precious little credibility.

Now the democrats have demonstrated that a great deal can be achieved by working the system as opposed to simply writing the system off as being beyond redemption, more should follow, especially when it comes to tactics in the legislature and in other parts of the system where pressure can be exercised.

There is, however, a large part of the democratic camp, mainly, but not exclusively, composed of younger people, who are suspicious of tactical compromises and believe that confrontation is the only genuine way of getting results. They have little to show for this approach but it is certainly more glamorous than talking about smart tactics.

Even those who talk the talk of tactics recognize the value of other approaches to achieving a democratic Hong Kong. There is no inherent contradiction in a two-track approach but it won’t be easy.

Meanwhile, the pro-government camp has still got to work out a way of curbing rising dissatisfaction in society. At present, the administration seems to believe that the best way of dealing with this is to enlarge the police force, supply it with more armored vehicles and equip police weaponry with longer-range rubber bullets. It’s not much of a plan.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe