Why pan-democrats still support Tsang instead of Woo

March 15, 2017 11:18
Pan-democrats will continue to support former financial secretary John Tsang. Photo: Bloomberg

Just two weeks ago, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing was still very much in the pan-democrats' favor, and thanks to their endorsement, he was able to secure his candidacy without having to tap into pro-establishment votes.

However, things suddenly took a nasty twist. A media tycoon, who is also the chief political donor of the pan-democrats, recently wrote a newspaper article lashing out at Woo, referring to him as the “fifth columnist” working for the Communist Party and blaming him for sabotaging the democratic cause.

His article was immediately followed by a stampede of his pan-democratic flunkeys and hangers-on, who echoed his accusations against Woo.

The candidate found himself suddenly and unexpectedly coming under fire from people who had treated him as an ally just a week ago.

But Woo proved himself to be far from being a pushover and refuted the fabricated accusations point by point in a laid-back but highly convincing and witty way.

The latest onslaught mounted by the pan-democrats and their big tycoon boss against Woo reminds me of an ancient Chinese proverb: “A person who carries a piece of authentic jade often draws envy.”

This saying is often used in Chinese literature to refer to people who are envied by others for their gifts and talents. It strengthens my conviction that Woo is the real deal for the top job.

I can think of only one possible reason why pan-democrats are suddenly doing an about-face on Woo and mounting a ferocious mudslinging campaign against him.

It's because Woo, whom they first considered as Plan B, has been outperforming and outsmarting their favorite Plan A, former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, in every single way over the past several weeks.

As a result, Woo's popularity is continuing to soar not only among the public but also among the pro-democracy members of the Election Committee, something that the pan-democratic mastermind didn't expect.

Fearing that Woo's soaring popularity might threaten John Tsang's chances of winning, thereby jeopardizing their plan of milking Tsang for political rewards after he got elected, the desperate pan-democrats are making a last-ditch effort to resuscitate Tsang's campaign and boost his odds by smearing Woo.

Contrary to the views of other political commentators, I believe former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is far from being able to seal her victory. In fact, her odds of winning are diminishing.

Notice that throughout the recent annual meetings of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, none of the Beijing leaders had stepped forward and publicly rooted for Lam as expected, not to mention that Lam had only received 579 nominations.

You can tell Beijing still has reservations about her.

There is also talk among members of the pro-establishment camp that they will be allowed a relatively higher degree of freedom when casting their votes this time around.

It is very likely many of those who were forced to endorse Carrie Lam during the nomination period may switch their support to either Tsang or Woo on election day.

That said, unlike what most political pundits think, I believe this CE election is more likely to be a battle between Tsang and Woo than between Tsang and Lam.

Recent developments only prove my point.

For our Beijing leaders, Woo is definitely a viable choice. By steering a middle course between John Tsang and Carrie Lam and choosing Woo to be the next chief executive, the central authorities can avoid the risk of alienating Beijing's Liaison Office and the diehard leftists in Hong Kong, who have remained the staunchest supporters of Carrie Lam and deeply suspicious of Tsang.

As far as the poor and desperate pan-democrats are concerned, for now they are simply left with no choice but to continue to support John Tsang, despite the fact that they might be getting increasingly aware that they could be betting on the wrong horse.

And since Tsang is their media tycoon boss's top favorite, they have to do as he wishes.

After all, you can't act against the wishes of your No. 1 donor in politics.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 14

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist