Date
16 December 2017
President Xi Jinping has not expressed his preference in Hong Kong's chief executive election, which is a good thing for John Tsang. Photos: Xinhua, Facebook/John Tsang
President Xi Jinping has not expressed his preference in Hong Kong's chief executive election, which is a good thing for John Tsang. Photos: Xinhua, Facebook/John Tsang

Will Beijing change horses in the homestretch of CE race?

Based on the results of different polls conducted by various institutions, most Hong Kong people have resigned themselves to the eventuality that Carrie Lam will be the next chief executive, although she remains far behind her chief rival John Tsang in popularity ratings.

So is the CE election over except for the casting and counting of ballots?

Beijing loyalists and the Liaison Office of the central government in Hong Kong led by Zhang Xiaoming are now pretty confident that their bet would win.

Ip Kwok-him, former chairman of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the biggest pro-Beijing political party in the city, said on Tuesday that Lam should secure more than 700 votes, compared with Leung Chun-ying’s 689 votes five years ago.

Interestingly, with just five days before the election, President Xi Jinping and other top leaders in Beijing remain mum on their favored candidate.

There are reports, of course, that state leader Zhang Dejiang has actively campaigned for Lam, while Beijing loyalists like Tung Chee-hwa have spread the word that the former chief secretary is the anointed one, although such statements were supposedly off the record and spoken behind closed doors.

So almost everyone in Hong Kong thinks that Lam is “it”.

However, Epoch Times, a newspaper supported by the banned meditation group Falung Gong, on Tuesday published an article about the Hong Kong election.

Citing sources in the Communist Party, the article said certain cadres in the party urged Beijing authorities to support Tsang for the top job in Hong Kong.

Why? Because allowing the victory of Tsang, who has the highest popularity rating among the three candidates, would prevent social instability, which would happen if Lam wins as many Hong Kong people regard her as just another CY Leung.

Now Epoch Times is not exactly a very objective publication, but it should be remembered that it has made several important reports and forecasts that turned out to be true, such as the fall of former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai.

The article, quoting sources said to be close to the regime, said President Xi would not express his preference even during the final stage of the CE election as he intends to uphold the “one country, two systems” policy in Hong Kong.

And so, “no appointment, no interference, maintain ‘one country, two systems’ and the rule of law” during the entire election process, the newspaper said.

Beijing would like to let the 1,194 members of the Election Committee to decide for themselves who is the best leader for Hong Kong, without any interference.

As such, the article said, the assertion by Zhang Xiaoming and Beijing loyalists that Lam is the “chosen one” may not be correct, and many pro-establishment members of the Election Committee will just ignore the Liaison Office and vote in accordance with their conscience – after all, the voting will be secret.

In addition, the report said, the party is more concerned about the image of Beijing, especially since President Xi will visit the United States next month at the earliest.

It would be highly embarrassing if Hong Kong will be wracked by demonstrations against the newly elected chief executive while the Chinese leader is meeting with his US counterpart, Donald Trump.

What is most surprising about the Epoch Times report is that it even said Tsang has a 65 percent chance of grabbing election victory on March 26, noting that many pro-Beijing electors have decided to vote for him and ignore the pressure from the Liaison Office, which has been aggressively campaigning for Lam.

Such a bold prediction runs counter to the nearly unanimous view in local mainstream media that Lam is the sure winner.

The truth is, Beijing only mentioned four key elements that should be considered in deciding who should be the next leader of Hong Kong, namely, that he or she must “love China and love Hong Kong”, must be someone Beijing can trust, must be capable of governing, and is supported by Hong Kong people – in that order.

On Tuesday, the DAB met with Lam for a second time during the campaign period.

Starry Lee, the party’s chair, said the party would most likely support Lam and vote for her, but whether the party would vote as a block is still to be decided on Friday.

The DAB could let its members vote on their own, and they would as it is secret balloting, and some members, in fact, may vote for Tsang as they are helping him in his campaign office.

Such a situation would certainly be advantageous for Tsang, who is being backed by most of the democrats but is unsure of the support of pro-Beijing members of the Election Committee.

He just might be able to secure 600 votes to win the election.

So far, the rough estimate is that Tsang could garner around 300 votes from the democrats and, based on the number of votes he got during the nomination period, he could get another 200 or more votes from “silent” supporters in the electoral college.

That may not be enough, but who really knows what will be the actual figures come election day?

In the latest poll conducted by the Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, Tsang’s support rate reached 53 percent as against Lam’s 32 percent. That’s a lead of 21 percentage points.

If Beijing really values the Hong Kong people’s support, who should be its choice for the city’s next leader? 

– Contact us at [email protected]

SC/AC/CG

EJ Insight writer

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