Despite the wide speculation that former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has already been handpicked by Beijing for Hong Kong’s top job, mainland officials have been circumspect on the matter during media interactions on the sidelines on the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference sessions.
In fact, not a single Beijing leader or high-ranking official has openly rooted for Lam during the “two sessions”, nor did anyone publicly say, whether implicitly or explicitly, that the central government might refuse to officially appoint any particular winning candidate.
On the other hand, Cheng Yiu-tong, a seasoned Communist Party stalwart and senior consultant to Lam’s campaign office, said he couldn’t see any reason why Beijing would refuse to appoint any winning candidate.
All these signs may suggest that no matter who is going to win in the end, it is very likely that Beijing would respect and acknowledge the election result, thereby dispelling the popular myth that it might refuse anointment if the winner is a person who it doesn’t trust, a move that could result in a catastrophic constitutional crisis.
As such, the ball is now once again back in the court of the 1,200 Election Committee (EC) members, because it is now entirely up to them to decide who is going to be the next CE.
In the following paragraphs, I will weigh the three candidates against one another based on four criteria laid down by Beijing for judging whether a person is suitable for the top job, in the hope that my analysis may provide EC members with some useful insight as to who they should vote for.
1. Be patriotic and love Hong Kong.
I guess perhaps 99 percent of our population is able to meet this requirement, including, of course, our three CE candidates, although the way in which they express love for the country and our city might vary from one another, or some of them might love Hong Kong a bit more than the country.
Now, the candidates’ stance on whether the next government should press ahead with the enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law might serve as a useful reference for EC members when judging the patriotism of the contenders.
As far as Lam is concerned, she has said that she’d rather defer the legislative initiative until there is a suitable environment in society that allows rational and constructive discussion about the highly sensitive and polarizing issue. In other words, she doesn’t have a timetable for enacting Article 23 of the Basic Law.
However, Tsang, the former financial secretary, appears to be a lot more aggressive when it comes to this issue. In his election platform, Tsang vowed that he will launch public consultation on Article 23 in the form of a “white paper”, and that he will push for the enactment in stages, hoping that the entire legislative initiative will be completed by 2020.
To some extent, it appears there is a bit more “patriotic element” in Tsang’s campaign platform compared to that of Lam.
Meanwhile, the third person in the CE race, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, has also pledged to enact Article 23. However, according to him there is a condition to that: while enacting Article 23, he will also push for the enactment of Article 22 of the Basic Law simultaneously in order to prevent any future political interference in our city’s affairs by Beijing.
Woo’s proposal has drawn criticism from Professor Rao Geping, member of the Basic Law Committee, who doubted whether it is within the constitutional jurisdiction of the HKSAR government to unilaterally enact Article 22.
In conclusion, while Lam and Tsang may be equally patriotic, Woo is obviously the least among the three, at least in the eyes of Beijing.
2. Be trusted by the central government
Among the three candidates, Woo, who has spent his entire career mainly as a judge and never dealt with any mainland official before, apparently can’t be the most trustworthy candidate from Beijing’s point of view.
As far as Lam and Tsang are concerned, even though they have both served as senior officials for a long time, Lam’s unwavering support for the “831 resolution” and her hard-line stance on the Occupy Movement in 2014 have undoubtedly given her a definite advantage over Tsang in terms of political trustworthiness, from Beijing’s perspective.
Now, with regard to the candidates’ standing vis-a-vis the other two criteria, I will discuss them in my next column.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 15
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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