23 February 2019
Democrats will support the candidate who gains the highest number of votes in the Civil Referendum. Photo: Reuters
Democrats will support the candidate who gains the highest number of votes in the Civil Referendum. Photo: Reuters

Why the democrats refuse to support John Tsang

Beijing’s top leaders are not expected to announce their “anointed” candidate in the March 26 chief executive election.

But what’s surprising is that the pan-democrats, while saying that they will support the most popular candidate based on the results of a poll, still refuse to endorse John Tsang Chun-wah, who has consistently topped popularity ratings.

Of course, no one expects top Chinese leader Xi Jinping to say, or event hint at, his choice or preference.

But that’s precisely the reason for an election, no matter if the decision is to be made by less than 1,200 individuals.

But Zhang Dejiang, who is responsible for Hong Kong’s affairs among state leaders, as well as the central government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong are said to prefer Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to become Hong Kong’s next leader.

In fact, several pro-establishment members of the Election Committee have admitted receiving phone calls from the Liaison Office urging them to vote for Lam.

The democrats, on the other hand, have decided to give all their 326 Election Committee votes to the most popular candidate.

They did not name the candidate, although Tsang has always enjoyed the highest ratings in popularity surveys.

According to the plan of the democrats, they will abide by the results of the Civil Referendum 2017 campaign.

From March 10 to 19, Hong Kong people will have the chance to cast their vote for their preferred chief executive candidate via mobile phone or desktop computer.

The campaign will also set up polling stations across the city from March 12, where people can vote.

The results will be announced after the close of voting on March 19.

Benny Tai, one of the organizers of the referendum, said he hopes more than a million people will cast their ballots in order to make the results credible.

However, the other side can easily question the credibility of the democrats’ referendum by coming up with another method of determining the “most popular” candidate.

Just last week, for example, a poll commissioned by the pro-Beijing Sing Tao Daily and conducted by a little-known pollster, CSG, showed that although Tsang is still the most popular candidate, only a narrow margin now separates him from Lam.

But in the latest poll commissioned by news website and conducted by the Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, Tsang extended his lead to a 46 percent support rate during the March 1-5 period, from 39 percent in the previous week.

On the other hand, Lam’s support rate was 34 percent, up slightly from 32 percent a week earlier. Woo Kwok-hing maintained a support rate of 12 percent.

Given these conflicting survey results, the pro-Beijing camp can mobilize its supporters to participate in the civil referendum in a bid to turn the outcome in their favor.

As such, Lam could emerge as the preferred candidate in the Civil Referendum, if the pro-Beijing camp uses its vast resources to influence the result.

If that happens, will the democrats, as they have decided, throw their support behind Lam?

Unlike the pro-Beijing camp, which is focused on a single candidate on Beijing’s order, the democrats are divided between those who support Tsang and those backing Woo.

Some democrats believe a former official with deep experience in the management of the government bureaucracy is preferable to a retired judge.

But others note that Woo’s election manifesto is more pro-democracy than Tsang’s.

Such a split among democrats would only favor the administration candidate, Lam, and ensure a CY 2.0 in the next five years.

That’s almost for certain because neither Tsang nor Woo could garner more than 601 votes to win the election without getting the entire support of the democrats in the Election Committee.

In order to win, Tsang or Woo should gain the 326 votes of the democratic bloc, and secure 300 more votes from pro-establishment members of the Election Committee.

Neither of the two candidates can hope to become the next chief executive without getting the full support of the pro-democracy camp.

Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, a pro-democracy legislator who sits on the Election Committee, has expressed confidence that Hong Kong people will choose the best chief executive candidate in the civil referendum, and he means Tsang.

By abiding by the result of the Civil Referendum, the democrats can say that they are respecting the people’s choice.

And if Tsang wins the election and takes the helm of the government, the democrats can maintain their role as the opposition because, technically, they did not vote for him but only abided by the result of the referendum.

Thus, the democrats could pursue their agenda and not feel beholden to the chief executive.

That’s well and good, but are the democrats not being too optimistic?

They should recognize that the establishment has enormous capability to win the election.

It’s not only that most of the members of the Election Committee are pro-Beijing, and therefore will vote for their candidate.

They also want to influence the result of the civil referendum to show that Hong Kong people prefer their candidate.

The democrats cannot afford to let this happen; they should make their every vote count. 

They should support a single candidate in the election, based on that candidate’s capability, integrity and leadership qualities, rather than let a referendum, whose results can be manipulated by the establishment, make the decision for them.

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EJ Insight writer

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