Why it had to be Carrie

March 24, 2017 19:11
Carrie Lam has failed to win the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people, but Beijing does not seem to care. Photo: Reuters

Just in case anyone has forgotten the reason why the public is excluded from participating in the so-called Chief Executive election it is worth remembering, as the grey men have remembered, the outcome of the last election where there was actually an element of genuine popular participation. It showed that the public could not be relied upon to vote in accordance with Beijing's wishes.

That was last year's Legislative Council election which resulted in the pro-government parties getting 40 percent of the popular vote, while the opposition camp i.e. the pan democrats plus localists, scooped up 55 percent.

As everyone knows that is not the end of the story because the way the system is rigged means that whichever way the public voted the majority of seats are still allocated to the pro-government camp.

An election for a single person is not so amenable to this kind of rigging, which is why in 2014 Beijing insisted that any reform of the system for choosing the Chief Executive should be subject to a veto process, screening out candidates who could not be relied to do as they are told.

The system ended up being unchanged and we were left with Sunday’s hollow imitation of an election.

Yet even in a system with less than 1,200 voters this charade left the bosses in Beijing in a state of anxiety, forcing them to exert unprecedented pressure on the people who they control in the Election Committee to ensure the 'election' of Carrie Lam.

It should be noted that this column is being written ahead of the election result but as the system is rigged there is little danger of incorrectly predicting the outcome.

It may be imagined that all of this is so well known that it is barely worth repeating. However, the point of doing so is to ensure that no one losses sight of the basic reason why Beijing will not contemplate anything resembling a genuine election for the leader of Hong Kong.

The fear lurks that a real election could produce a leader who is not entirely beholden to Communist Party in all its many manifestations.

Yet, despite all this it could just about be argued that the first three Chief Executives of the Hong Kong SAR had some semblance of a popular mandate, all three entered office with positive opinion poll ratings and, at a push, may even have been able to win a genuine election.

Carrie Lam is in entirely different category. Her public support is unimpressive, even her allies do little more than apologize for her many shortcomings, implausibly arguing that they emanate from her inexperience as a politician. Yet she has held a variety of top political jobs for some two decades and has been a government official for even longer.

While the election process was underway the usual suspects tottered into meetings with their bosses in Beijing and emerged parroting an almost identical line which starts out with the affirmation that the Chief Executive needs to be acceptable to the central authorities, needs to be patriotic, etc., followed by a half hearted remark about the winning candidate also being supported by the people of Hong Kong.

As Lam has consistently failed to win the hearts and minds of the people there can be no question of her popular acceptability but Beijing does not care. The authorities are, to put it bluntly, fed up with the people of Hong Kong who appear incapable of doing what they are told to do.

This is a dangerous attitude; moreover it raises the bar for confrontation even though confrontation is entirely avoidable.

Beijing, could, at the last minute, have made the gesture of endorsing John Tsang, based on his higher level of popularity. In these circumstances it is pretty certain that he would have been as beholden to Beijing as Lam and equally prepared to follow orders, albeit with a more pleasant demeanor.

However, compromise seems to have been expunged from the vocabulary of the central authorities – they appear to relish confrontation because they are convinced that when it comes to a fight, they will definitely win.

Let’s see how that pans out.

-- Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author