All candidates put on a good show despite phony election

March 31, 2017 15:13
All's well: John Tsang (left) hugs Carrie Lam as Woo Kwok-hing looks on after the voting on Sunday. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong’s chief executive election last Sunday, a mere formality of which the outcome had already been known to all, was still among the top stories of overseas newspapers and wire agencies.

Bloomberg poked fun at the 777 votes that went for Carrie Lam, since an obscene Cantonese pun sounds hilariously similar to the pronunciation of the vote count.

According to Monocle, Lam has taken on a “thankless task”, a near-impossible job of pleasing two masters who are increasingly “at odds with each other”.

It added: “Fireworks will light up the sky but the inauguration of another leader lacking popular support is unlikely to be celebrated on the streets as well”.

The new chief executive was supposedly elected through secret ballot, yet not a few of the big guns on the elite Election Committee had made clear beforehand their person of choice, and of course, it must be the Beijing-anointed Lam.

And so in a city once hailed by Milton Friedman as a paragon of free markets in his Free to Choose television series, many on the Election Committee never really had the free will to choose, and the higher the stature you gain, the more you have to dance to Beijing’s music, even though the secret ballot was intended to shield any interference in the voting.

Remember Beijing promised before 1997 that we Hongkongers would become our own masters?

Still, the words and deeds of the three candidates, in such a phony election, were somehow reassuring.

John Tsang and retired High Court judge Woo Kwok-hing have demonstrated their resolve to defy the odds and attempt the impossible, even if they knew from the outset they could hardly rally the support of the majority of the Election Committee.

They lost the election yet they have respect and ovation from many of the voteless.

Originally, Judge Woo joined the race in order to prevent Leung Chun-ying from getting a second term, yet he chose to stick to the game after Leung got cold feet all at once and announced he would not run.

A man of sportsmanship, Woo never thought of a retreat even though many regarded him as an underdog or also-ran.

Typical of a decent, upright judge, Woo didn’t mince words about the root of Hong Kong’s woes: as he put it, Hong Kong is in disarray not because of livelihood issues or lack of resources but the chasm between two ideologies originating from the two yawningly different systems.

Tsang was not as straightforward as Woo but he was humorous, sincere and at ease throughout the campaign and apparently Hongkongers, even his critics, were well impressed. Tsang has given full display to his charisma and bearing as a leader.

Beijing’s brazen, zealous campaigning for Lam has become her biggest liability, as her victory is seen by many in a very unflattering light.

But the fact is that no local elections can be held in a vacuum, free from Beijing’s reach, and it would be hard to imagine Lam facing up to her mainland overlords and saying: “Mind your own business, thank you very much.”

Still, her electioneering looked like one in a real, competitive game. She could have laid back and waited to be anointed, yet quite the opposite, she paid district visits, attended forums and even tried to reach out to the voteless, in particular the young.

Some of her efforts may look clumsy and she even ran into a slew of PR gaffes, but there’s no denying she tried really hard.

The campaigns have made Lam more humble, contrasting favorably with her previously pompous personality.

Her victory speech sounded well to the ears of ordinary Hongkongers as well: “To me, unity must be built step by step on solid ground. It is through real work and actual results that I will respond to those who support me, and garner the recognition of those yet to support me. Deeds speak louder than words.”

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 28

Translation by Frank Chen 

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The three candidates and their campaign teams pose for a group picture prior to Sunday's election. Photo: HKEJ

A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal