Has ABC gained traction in Beijing?

October 20, 2016 09:18
The opposition camp doesn’t want Leung Chun-ying to get a second term but replacing him would be an admission that President Xi Jinping has picked the wrong person. Photo: CNSA

It is late October but we still don’t know who will run for chief executive next March. In political terms, it’s a slap in the face of Hong Kong people. 

Surely, with just five months to go before election day – selection day, to be more accurate – the people have a right to know who the candidates will be.

Leung Chun-ying is staying mum even though everyone knows he craves another term.

Former Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing’s puzzling message is that he is unqualified but will run if necessary to prevent a one-horse race. Why run at all if you’re unqualified? It prevents a one-horse race but all it does is provide a choice between an unqualified candidate and a hated one.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s message is even more puzzling. He says he will run if it is for the good of Hong Kong. If he doesn’t know himself whether his being chief executive is good for Hong Kong then he has no business running.

Who will you choose – the loathed Leung, the unqualified Tsang, or the other Tsang who doesn’t know if he is good for Hong Kong?

But, of course, you don’t get to choose. Only 1,200 members of the Election Committee can choose. These 1,200 members will be selected by a tiny number of privileged voters on Dec. 11. The opposition camp intends to fight tooth and nail for 300 or more of the 1,200 Election Committee seats to achieve its dream of ABC – Anyone but CY.

March 26 next year could have been a historic day with millions of eligible Hong Kong voters electing their chief executive for the first time. They could have held the power of ABC in their hands.

But opposition legislators robbed them of that right by rejecting a reform framework with the argument that it essentially allowed Beijing to screen out candidates it mistrusts. Yet, it now wants Beijing to screen out Leung in an election with only 1,200 voters. If screening out candidates in a one person, one vote framework is wrong, why is screening out candidates in an election with only 1,200 voters right?

It is unclear if ABC has gained traction in Beijing. Central government leaders keep these things close to their chests. The only clue we have is that it’s already late October but Leung is still behaving as if he intends to run.

That could either mean Beijing has scoffed at the idea of ABC or that it is considering it but has not told Leung. You never get something for nothing in politics. There is always a trade-off. What will the opposition trade in return for ABC?

It will have to be something so tempting that it makes Beijing sit up and think. Dumping Leung is a big loss of face for President Xi Jinping. He gave the nod for Leung to become chief executive.

Replacing him would be an admission that Xi picked the wrong horse. It would also mean that none of the three post-handover chief executives were good enough to serve two full terms. Tung was ordered to step down after 500,000 Hong Kong people marched for his ouster. Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is facing corruption charges. And Leung is facing ABC.

Beijing’s top Hong Kong concern now is the rise of the independence movement. Under no circumstances will it allow Hong Kong politics to threaten national security.

The opposition’s demands are ABC, self-determination, so-called true democracy, no screening of chief executive candidates, and the scrapping of the August 31 2014 reform framework for Hong Kong. Is a trade-off realistically possible between these two positions?

Surely, it will fan the independence movement even more if Beijing agrees to ABC, self-determination, so-called true democracy, no screening of chief executive candidates and the scrapping of the Aug. 31, 2014 framework. Surely, it’s not possible for the opposition camp to give Beijing a guarantee that the independence movement will fizzle out and Hong Kong will not become a base to threaten national security if its demands are met.

One suggestion making the rounds is that the central government will agree to ABC and scrap the Aug. 31 framework that screens chief executive candidates in return for the Legislative Council passing new laws that require future chief executives to protect national security and reject independence.

That sounds like Beijing meeting the opposition’s demands in return for Legco passing Article 23 national security legislation.

I can’t see how Beijing will agree to playing no part in who becomes the next chief executive even in return for Article 23, especially after the independence movement took another defiant step forward during the swearing-in ceremony of two pro-independence legislators who declared Hong Kong is not China and pronounced China as Chee-na, the derogatory wartime name Japan used.

It may be too late for big changes before the March 26 chief executive election. The immediate issue is whether Beijing will accede to ABC.

If not Leung, then who? A recent public opinion poll showed Tsang Chun-wah to be the most popular with 60 percent support and Leung the least popular with just 18 percent.

The bigger question for Beijing is not who Hong Kong people prefer but who it trusts. Leung has overdone his patriotism but Tsang has underdone it.

All the possible chief executive candidates – Leung, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and Tsang Yok-sing – were quick to condemn the use of Chee-na by the two independence legislators except for Tsang Chun-wah who waited nearly a week to do it.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.