22 February 2019
Carrie Lam is taking a sensible approach on thorny issues like enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law. Photo: HKEJ
Carrie Lam is taking a sensible approach on thorny issues like enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law. Photo: HKEJ

Priority tasks for the next CE

As the chief executive race enters the home stretch, the three contenders — former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing — will come under more scrutiny in the coming days over their campaign platforms.

Ironically, former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, one of Beijing’s most steadfast loyalists and a renowned workhorse in the pro-establishment camp, was once again denied access to the race. I believe she has every reason to be indignant about being short-changed by the Election Committee.

Meanwhile, some commentators have suggested that Lam is far from being able to seal her victory as she only managed to get the endorsement of 579 Election Committee members. I personally don’t buy into such notion.

Instead, I believe Lam was deliberately presenting less than 600 endorsement votes during the nomination period as she wanted to avoid giving the public an impression that the election is completely rigged.

As such, I maintain that Beijing has already handpicked Lam for the job, and that she is going to win on March 26 unless something goes terribly wrong with her before the election day, and prompts Beijing to abruptly change its mind.

Even though the CE election will remain a small-circle one in which the vast majority of the public are not eligible to vote, there is indeed still something positive about it which can benefit society as a whole.

For example, I believe the biggest upside of this election is that all three of the candidates have vowed that once elected, they will amend Articles 3 and 8 of the existing Prevention of Bribery Ordinance so that the provisions will apply to the Chief Executive as well.

In particular, Lam has jumped on that bandwagon. Let’s not forget during her term in office as chief secretary, Lam played a key part in helping Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to stall amendments recommended by a special commission headed by former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang.

The fact that Lam has suddenly changed her stance on the issue and pledged to deliver something that she very much had been trying to prevent before suggests that she might have got the green light from Beijing to make such an election promise in order to boost her popularity.

No matter what, changing our existing anti-graft laws to prevent corruption of the city’s top leader is undoubtedly a good thing for Hong Kong in light of the recent conviction of former chief executive Donald Tsang on corruption charges.

In fact Lam has one definite advantage over her rivals: she doesn’t have to reaffirm her absolute loyalty to Beijing by pledging to relaunch unpopular legislative initiatives such as the enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law like John Tsang does, because after all she is already pretty much the “chosen one”, thereby allowing her more flexibility and room for maneuver.

And that explains why Lam has declared that she will not press ahead with enactment of Article 23 until the society is able to reach a consensus on the highly divisive and controversial issue. I believe her promise not to touch on this subject at least for quite a while will definitely work in her favor to mend fences in society once she takes office.

Nor did Lam vow to reopen political reforms once elected like the other two candidates did. As she has put it, since political reform is an equally divisive and polarizing issue as the enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law, she prefers to defer discussion on the topic until there is a suitable environment in society that allows constructive and rational debate about the issue. I believe this is a sensible approach.

As I have pointed out before, as our society is unable to find common ground on the arrangements for universal suffrage over the chief executive election, and Beijing is unlikely to soften its stance and agree to review the “831 Resolution” in the foreseeable future, why not shelve it for now and start with reforming the Legco election first?

No matter who is elected in the end, I sincerely hope that our leaders in Beijing will understand the fact that upholding “One Country Two Systems” and keeping the rule of law and judicial independence intact are key to preserving Hong Kong’s economic and strategic value to the mainland.

Therefore it is both in the interests of Hong Kong and Beijing to stop eroding our well-established system, because once our unique advantages are gone, our city will no longer be able fulfill its role as China’s window to the world.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 8

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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