Why Woo Kwok-hing is the real deal in the CE election

March 08, 2017 12:25
Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing could emerge as a dark horse in Hong Kong's chief executive election, some observers feel. Photo: HKEJ

I wasn't surprised at all that retired judge Woo Kwok-hing was able to get enough endorsement votes from the Election Committee to become an official CE election candidate.

However, what really surprised me though was the fact that Woo was able to officially join the race almost effortlessly by securing the backing of 179 pro-democracy members on the Election Committee, without any assistance from Beijing.

At a recent meeting with the Hong Kong delegation to the National People's Congress in Beijing, Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC), said all three of the CE contenders are able to meet the four major requirements for becoming Hong Kong's next leader.

However, Zhang just ended right there, and didn't go on to publicly root for Carrie Lam as many among both the pro-democracy and pro-establishment camps had expected, an almost unmistakable indication that Lam remains far from being able to seal her victory.

As a matter of fact, like I have repeated over and over again, retired judge Woo is the real deal and is likely to emerge as the dark horse in the upcoming CE election. The fact that Zhang had refrained from publicly endorsing Lam only proves my point.

Woo might not be able to seal his victory in the first round of voting on March 26, but I am pretty sure he is likely to win at the second round, as long as he doesn't make any silly mistake or get carried away and put his foot in his mouth between now and the election day.

I am perhaps the only political commentator in Hong Kong that has repeatedly suggested since last December that Woo is the real deal, and stood by my conviction all along. However, the campaign team of John Tsang and the pan-democrats both seem to only believe in what they want to believe, and refuse to take Woo seriously.

In my opinion, Tsang's under-estimation of, or even disdain for, Woo would prove his undoing on March 26.

My confidence in Woo is by no means unfounded. Let me explain that in detail.

There is a prevailing notion among the pan-democrats that Lam secured at least 700 endorsement votes from the pro-Beijing camp, and the reason why she only presented 579 votes when officially registering as candidate last week was because she wanted to keep a low profile and hide her strength so as not to alert Tsang and Woo too much.

The truth, I believe, is that the pan-democrats have got it all wrong. Lam had indeed been desperate to seek the endorsement of an extra 200 pro-establishment members even until the last minute during the nomination period in order to make her election prospects more reassuring.

However, Beijing had denied her those extra votes, and only gave her 579 endorsement votes, still 22 short of the threshold of getting elected. And the reason why Beijing refused to give her that reassurance she badly needed is a hint that the central leadership is yet to make a final decision. And that Beijing needs to reserve some votes to back up Woo, just in case.

Yet it turns out Woo didn't even need Beijing's behind-the-scene maneuver to secure his candidacy.

In fact Beijing is adjusting its policy on Hong Kong, under which it is going to ease off politically and the carrot would replace the stick, at least for quite a while.

Just look at how Premier Li Keqiang softened his tone over the growing separatism in Hong Kong when he addressed the NPC delegates, and you can tell that Beijing doesn't want to further provoke the people of Hong Kong.

It is because Beijing is well aware that the continued polarization and escalating confrontation in our city would only cause irreversible damage to our social stability and the rule of law, and above all, undermine the confidence of international investors in "One Country Two Systems".

If global investors lose their confidence in "One Country Two Systems", Hong Kong will no longer be able to fulfill its role as China's window to the world and serve Beijing's strategic and economic purposes.

That is why Beijing may put Woo in charge of Hong Kong, for what is a better way to restore international confidence in our rule of law than appointing a former judge as the next CE?

Once elected, I am confident that Woo will deliver his "3 visions" for our city. First, he is going to put an end to the confrontational style of governance adopted by the incumbent Leung administration, and allow disqualified lawmakers to run in by-elections as long as they stop advocating Hong Kong independence.

Second, he will deliver on his election promises by enacting article 22 of the Basic Law to uphold "One Country Two Systems" and relaunch political reform consultation. And lastly, he will seek to improve social welfare and address the issue of housing shortages for young people.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 7

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist