HK is preparing to choose a new leader

17-Dec-2016 Intellasia | The Economist | 6:00 AM Print This Post

CHIEF executives of Hong Kong have never basked in public adoration. The first one under Chinese rule, Tung Chee-hwa, resigned after a massive public outcry against his policies. The second, Donald Tsang, ended his term with allegations swirling around him of improper conduct (he denies them). Now the third, Leung Chun-ying, has said he will not stand for another five-year term. Though he cites family reasons, his rock-bottom popularity may well have been a factor. Nearly 20 years after taking back Hong Kong, the Communist Party in Beijing may be wondering whether it can ever pick a winner to lead the former colony.

It had been widely assumed that, despite Leung’s low opinion-poll ratings, the party would give him tacit backing in a race getting underway for the post of chief executive. The choice will be made in March by the 1,200 members of an election committee stuffed with the party’s supporters in Hong Kong. It only takes a nod from leaders in Beijing to swing votes in favour of the party’s preferred candidate.

But on December 9th Leung told reporters at a hastily arranged press conference that he would not join the race in order to protect his family from the “intolerable stress” of it. It is likely that officials in Beijing had cold feet because of public contempt for him. He is often called “the wolf” – a reference to his aloof and cunning demeanour and a play on his surname, which sounds like the Chinese word for the animal. During the “Umbrella Movement” of 2014, when busy commercial areas were disrupted by weeks of sit-ins, protesters demanded his resignation, as well as free elections. The party was doubtless pleased by his resolute refusal, in line with its own, to countenance such concessions. But it must also have worried that keeping Leung in place for another term would goad demonstrators back onto the streets and risk plunging Hong Kong into yet more unrest. A day after Leung’s announcement, hundreds of his opponents joined a demonstration in central Hong Kong. Some held up placards attacking him (see picture).

The party, however, is doing a good job itself of riling Hong Kongers. Its opposition to full democracy, which many thought they had been promised when China took over, has fuelled a small but growing pro-independence movement which worries the party even more. With the help of a constitutional ruling by China’s national parliament, it has supported recent efforts by Hong Kong’s government to get several independence-leaning and other pro-democracy lawmakers disbarred from the Legislative Council, or Legco, on the grounds that they took their oaths improperly. Two have been excluded and cases involving another four are being considered by Hong Kong’s High Court.

(The Economist)

Officials in Beijing will now be wondering who best can pursue the seemingly impossible task of containing pro-independence and pro-democracy sentiment, while at the same time winning the support of Hong Kongers. So far only two people have declared their intention to stand. One is Woo Kwok-hing, a retired judge who has little hope of gaining the party’s backing. The other is Regina Ip, a former security minister who is now a member of Legco. She threw her hat in the ring on December 15th. Ip is best known for helping with a failed attempt to push through a security law in 2003. Public opposition to it dealt a huge blow to the popularity of Tung, the first chief executive, and led to Ip’s resignation. She says she would “definitely go ahead” with efforts to revive the bill should she win.

Another possible is John Tsang, Leung’s former finance minister. Tsang resigned from that post on December 12th, fuelling speculation that he wants to stand. Some analysts believe that a job he once held as private secretary to Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, may rule him out: the party regards Patten as the font of Hong Kong’s post-colonial ills.

The party may prefer Carrie Lam, who has served as head of the civil service under Leung. Lam had said she would retire next year, but now says she has had “no choice” but to reconsider following Leung’s announcement. There is unlikely to be a pro-democracy candidate. The election committee is mostly made up of representatives of businesses and occupations that tend to be pro-government. In polls held by such groups on December 11th to fill election-committee seats, supporters of greater democracy took more than 320, up from around 200 in 2011. But the pro-democracy camp does not want to appear to legitimise the gerrymandered election process by proffering a candidate. Leung’s critics are resigned to a successor who is all but certain to be as faithful to the party as he has been.



Category: Hong Kong

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