Pan-dems must vote in tandem to block Lam

January 18, 2017 16:03
As Carrie Lam has promised to continue with current policies, pan-democrats will try their best to prevent her from becoming Hong Kong's next leader. Photo: HKEJ

The pan-democratic bloc has managed to put 325 of its people on the 1,200-member Election Committee, giving the group, for the first time since the handover, some real heft in the CE election.

How to build and leverage the synergy is a question that all democrats must think over, as never before have there been so many non-establishment voters in the panel that is usually packed with Beijing's yesmen.

In previous CE elections the dissident faction that refused to submit to mainland bosses was usually left in limbo. To make a point, they could only cast blank votes or back any contender from the opposition camp, even though that person was a non-starter throughout.

They could never influence the outcome of the election as establishment figures rubber-stamped the central government's choice for the city's top post.

But this time the situation is somewhat different: pan-dems can be kingmakers if the 325 voters can all move in tandem.

Let's first have a quick look at all the four CE aspirants: Carrie Lam, Regina Ip, Woo Kwok-hing and John Tsang.

Lam has said from the outset that she will carry on with the policies of the current administration. In other words, if she gets elected, the existing regime will remain in place even after Leung Chun-ying steps down at the end of June.

Given her utterances, Lam has given pan-dems a compelling reason to block her.

Serving as Leung's deputy for five years, the pugnacious stance of her boss seems to have rubbed off on Lam -- more often than not, she wants a fight.

The still evolving fiasco of the West Kowloon Palace Museum is but the latest addition to Lam's long list of misconducts: she is always ready to circumvent due procedures and compromise time-tested rules and traditions when there's a political agenda to serve.

Coming to Regina Ip, enacting the Article 23 national security legislation is high up on her election manifesto, as the candidate vies for Beijing's favor.

She seems to have forgotten that more than half a million Hongkongers took to the streets in the past to voice their opposition to the proposed legislation.

Ip's disastrous handling of the prickly matter, in fact, became the prologue to a vicious circle that has engulfed Hong Kong and marred cross-border relations.

As for retired judge Woo, his many policy recommendations resonate well with Hongkongers but is doubtful how much support he can win in the ludicrous "small circle" election.

Woo commands respect for his long career in the judiciary but that can also put him in a rather unflattering light in Beijing's eye, since the Communist cadres have never taken to the idea of letting a judge lead the city. That hidebound ideology is an invisible barrier that Woo is unlikely to surmount.

Beijing's mouthpieces in Hong Kong never mince their words whenever the SAR government loses a judicial review case, and some critics of the courts have gone so far as to remind judges that they must not cripple the chief executive’s power in governance. Also, Beijing has decreed a request of absolute allegiance in its 2014 White Paper that all judges must be "patriotic".

Woo, an outspoken and impartial judge, just can't get enough votes under the current election regime.

Coming to John Tsang, the former financial secretary appears to have become a collateral target of the leftist camp.

Some of his critics have questioned his loyalty, as Tsang spent his adolescent years in the United States and the nature of his work as well as his political stance back then all looked "dubious". Prior to the 1997 handover, Tsang was the private secretary of Chris Patten, colonial Hong Kong's last governor who had never been on sound terms with Beijing.

Others say Tsang didn't take any bold actions throughout his tenure as the financial secretary.

To me, there is only one reason for this smear campaign: Tsang is seen as a threat to Leung, Lam and their cohorts.

The Leung administration and the Liaison Office have long established a syndicate, and anyone from outside who may enter the race must be dragged down.

If the goal for all pan-dems and Hongkongers is to rectify all the wrongs of the Leung administration, then obviously a Leung foe should be our best bet.

They should all vote for Tsang.

Mainland envoys in the city have made no bones about their preference for Lam. It is said that in a bid to dissuade Ip, Liaison Office director Zhang Xiaoming (張曉明) even pledged to make her president of the Legislative Council. Meanwhile, they have lost no time spreading word in the past month that Tsang will never have Beijing’s blessing.

According to my back-of-the-envelope calculation, this time the Liaison Office may be able to guarantee around 550 votes for Lam. That figure is still lower than the minimum threshold of 601 votes to send her into Tamar.

Five years ago about 280 voters remained steadfast and chose to side with Henry Tang despite an almost point-blank order from the Liaison Office to ditch him.

Thus, if a new ABC (anyone but Carrie) alliance can be formed between pan-dems and Tang’s supporters, then the number of ABC votes can be 605 or even higher, enough to guarantee a victory for Tsang, who is now a figure of the "largest common denominator" for both of the two sides.

That said, my proposition is entirely based on one prerequisite: the opposition won't send its own candidate. But we have had reports that "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung is considering joining the race. If that indeed happens, the opposition bets will be off, even if the radical activist manages to take only a few dozen votes from Tsang. 

And the only possible outcome will be that Lam becomes the next chief executive.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal’s online forum on Jan. 13

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Senior journalist with The Straits Times and political commentator