Outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has officially become a state leader, after being elected vice chairman of the central government’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), on Monday.
He received overwhelming support from the body, with 2,066 delegates voting in favor of a motion to name him to the position. However, 13 voted against while 16 abstained.
During the event, cameras zoomed in on President Xi Jinping shaking CY Leung’s hands and talking to him for around 40 seconds.
Other state leaders, including Premier Li Keqiang and other members of the Politburo, also took turns to greet Leung.
China watchers sought to divine the significance of the Chinese leader’s lengthy handshake with Leung. Is Beijing trying to send some signals to Hong Kong people less than two weeks before the chief executive election?
Of course, Xi is not expected to state his preference among the three candidates vying for the city’s top job.
Still, many Beijing loyalists are seeking some guidance on who to vote for come March 26.
Many members of the Election Committee have yet to decide whether to support former chief secretary Carrie Lam or former financial chief John Tsang, both members of CY Leung’s official family before they stepped down from their posts to join the CE race.
Leung’s decision not to seek a second term was welcomed by Hong Kong people, as it has taken one of the most divisive personalities in society out of the picture.
But it seems that CY Leung is not yet out of the city’s political equation. Beijing has elevated him to the level of a state leader with immediate effect, ignoring the fact that it was Leung who aggravated the social conflicts in the territory and widened the schism between the pro-Beijing and democratic camps.
Leung’s election is a confirmation of Beijing’s appreciation of what he has done as Hong Kong leader in the past five years.
Many political pundits have entertained the idea that the central government is adopting a new approach of dealing with the territory after Leung’s term expires in July.
But with Leung’s new role as a state leader, people should realize that Beijing has no intention to change its hardline approach in governing Hong Kong.
In fact, President Xi’s hearty, although brief, chat with Leung may indicate that Beijing wants to further tighten its grip on the territory as it endorses CY’s highly unpopular governance style.
Beijing is also apparently telling members of the Election Committee, and the Hong Kong public as well, that Leung has done nothing wrong during his term.
And if such is the case, we might as well continue with his policies and governance style. And who could better pursue CY Leung’s programs than his closest aide and political lieutenant, Carrie Lam?
Now we have two CPPCC vice chairmen from Hong Kong, the other one being Tung Chee-hwa.
Tung, of course, is Hong Kong’s first chief executive after the 1997 handover. He ruled from 1997 to 2005, cutting short his second term due to “health reasons”.
Tung, though no longer chief executive, has continued to play a significant role in Hong Kong politics.
It was his number-two man, Donald Tsang, who succeeded him as chief executive from 2005 to the end of his second term in 2012.
Then Tung is said to have convinced President Xi to change his mind about who should be the next Hong Kong chief executive, picking Leung over Henry Tang.
This year, Tung is again playing an active, though behind-the-scene, role in the current chief executive race, trying his best to install Carrie Lam as the next Hong Kong leader.
Over the weekend, Tung was quoted as saying that he had requested Hong Kong deputies of the CPPCC to support the one whom he hugged in the chief executive election.
While Tung did not name who that person is, in December he made sure everyone saw him hugging Lam during a ceremony commemorating the Nanjing Massacre.
Tung would certainly be happy if people thought that his choice is also Beijing’s preferred candidate, so that pro-Beijing members of the Election Committee would all support Lam, instead of giving some of their votes to John Tsang and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing.
Although Lam is considered the frontrunner at this stage of the race, Tsang and Woo, aside from getting votes from the pro-democracy camp, are also likely to get some support from the pro-establishment electors.
In fact, there are rumors that some members of the Election Committee will not vote for the ones they nominated, which means Tsang and Woo could get more votes.
So if Tung wants to ensure that his candidate will win on March 26, there is no room to be complacent.
Last month, Tung reportedly said in a closed door meeting of his Our Hong Kong Foundation that the central government wouldn’t officially appoint Tsang if he was elected as the next leader as Beijing doesn’t trust the former financial chief well enough.
From all this we could say that Tung is not only acting like a king maker in Hong Kong politics but may also represent Beijing’s thinking as far as the coming election is concerned.
Lam’s election as Hong Kong’s next leader would show that Beijing is not about to switch to a softer approach in dealing with the territory, that it would continue its hardline stance in dealing with the political opposition and focus on “one country” even at the expense of “two systems”.
While several polls conducted by local universities showed Tsang continuing to lead Lam by up to 10 percentage points, a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Research Association showed that Lam has overtaken her chief rival in popularity, the first survey showing such a result.
All these could be signals that Beijing has made a decision on the chief executive race. It’s probably time for Hong Kong people to wake up and prepare for the next five years under CY 2.0.
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