Who will be Hong Kong's next chief executive?

July 11, 2015 08:03
(From left) Antony Leung, John Tsang and Regina Ip are among the names making the rounds as potential candidates for chief executive in 2017. Photo: HKEJ

Connoisseurs of the maneuverings among Hong Kong’s elite have spent the past weeks trying to gauge who will be the city's next chief executive.

All pretense that this decision will be made by the 1,200-strong Election Committee has long been abandoned, because, of course, the choice of leader will be dictated by Beijing.

Given that the decision is not urgent, it is entirely possible that Zhongnanhai is not buzzing with activity on this matter, but somewhere in the bureaucracy, someone will be working on this.

In the absence of real information and the predictable lack of transparency that characterizes this process, rumor abounds.

There was, for example, much excitement over a reportedly warm handshake Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah received from President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Similar handshake moments preceded the anointment of the first two chief executives.

Then we have the mysterious re-emergence of Antony Leung Kam-chung, Mr. Tsang’s predecessor as financial secretary.

Mr. Leung was forced to step down in the face of a scandal but has popped up again in apparent close alliance with Hong Kong’s first (and failed) chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa.

Using the paper-thin disguise of running a think tank, the two men have launched a citywide advertising campaign for their cause, even though it remains unclear as to what this cause is.

Meanwhile the incumbent chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, is giving every impression of wanting a second term.

His stock seems to be relatively high in Beijing, which gives him pass marks for his hardline approach to protest, but there is considerably more difficulty identifying other "achievements".

Moreover, he is intensely personally unpopular with many members of the pro-government camp.

But if Beijing wants him to run, we can be sure they will do as they are told.

Elsewhere, we see Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee working as if there was no tomorrow to secure her place in the race.

If self-belief were a guarantee of victory, she would be a hands-down winner.

However, Ms. Ip has a problem with other pro-government personalities, not to mention other people.

Trotting around the periphery of this race are some other candidates who are probably worth watching, at least for now.

They include the academic-turned-government-minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, who is being touted as a compromise candidate given his earlier flirtations with the democratic movement.

And then there are mutterings about a "dark horse" candidate from the business world.

Remarkably, Henry Tang Ying-yen still believes he has a shot in this context, but his problem is not that he is a dark horse but that people know too much about him.

This is hardly an inspiring field of candidates and speaks eloquently of the state of talent in the pro-government camp.

Education: a golden opportunity missed

Hong Kong has a golden opportunity to do something serious about improving basic education standards at the level where it matters most: the primary level.

Almost inevitably, we learned this week that the government will not be taking this opportunity and instead will be scrapping 41 Form 1 classes, with threats of greater reductions to come.

The cuts arise from the falling birth rate and fewer pupils coming across the border, although this trend is expected to reverse within a couple of years.

The grand people who run Hong Kong’s Education Bureau prefer to focus on the fancier end of the educational system, but countless studies have shown that primary schools are where the real differences are made.

Moreover, there is considerable evidence that smaller classes in primary schools have a crucial impact on learning.

Government figures show that as matters stand, an average of 27 children are in each primary school class.

This is more or less in line with class sizes in Europe and considerably better than in many other places.

However a relatively modest reduction, of the kind made entirely possible by falling enrolments, could produce impressive returns at a modest cost.

Instead of seizing this opportunity, the government will close down classes and impose longer traveling times on pupils, particularly in Tuen Mun and in other districts populated by the less well-off.

The people making the decisions about the fate of children from families of modest means tend to send their own children to elite schools with small class sizes.

It may be excessive to accuse them of wanting to perpetuate unequal opportunities in education to preserve the status of the rich, but aside from saying that the class closures will result in cost savings, we have yet to hear any kind of good reason for this poor decision making.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author