Leung Chun-ying

Feud for top job alters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 April, 2012, 12:00am


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The dust has still to settle from the fight to choose the city's next leader, but already the battle lines for September's Legislative Council elections are being redrawn. Leung Chun-ying's victory in the chief executive election left the pro-establishment camp bitterly divided. And that could benefit candidates of the pan-democratic camp, some analysts say.

The divisions the just-concluded election caused between Leung's supporters and those of his rival, former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, and the fact there will be an extra 10 seats in Legco to fight over mean the legislative polls will be more fiercely contested than in previous years, several analysts say.

And some see the pan-democrats benefiting, likening them to the dog that runs away with a bone being fought over by two others.

'The fiercer the infighting in the pro-establishment camp, the more likely the pan-democrats will benefit,' said City University political scientist Dr James Sung Lap-kung. 'The central government's liaison office will not want to see further divisions in the camp.'

In last month's mock chief executive election, held by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme, a whopping 54.6 per cent of 222,990 voters cast blank ballots in a show of anger at the nature of the March 25 poll - decided by the 1,193-strong Election Committee, made up largely of the city's business and political elite.

Of the three candidates for chief executive, Leung emerged with 17.8 per cent of the votes in the mock vote, which was held from March 23 to 24, narrowly beating Tang on 16.3 per cent and pan-democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan on 11.4 per cent.

In the real election, Leung won 689 votes, or 60.9 per cent of the 1,132 votes cast - the lowest share of the vote yet seen for a winning chief executive, albeit he won outright in the first round. Tang had 285 votes and Ho 76.

People in the Beijing-loyalist camp admit that its support for Leung - who critics say had a low share of the vote, has low popularity and whose chances of uniting the city are low - will affect its performance in the forthcoming Legco polls.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong gave all its 147 Election Committee votes to Leung, while the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) gave him 60. Officials from both organisations have since vowed to monitor the performance of Leung's administration, though they deny that in doing so they are trying to distance themselves from Leung.

'We will support what is right and oppose what is wrong. This has long been our attitude. As lawmakers, we will monitor the government as we are obliged to do,' DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung said.

Tsang Yok-sing, who was chairman of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, the DAB's forerunner, earlier expressed the hope that the party, which has 10 Legco seats, can win between one and four more in September.

Tam said: 'We have discussed this, but the exact target has yet to be set. We want to at least keep the current seats and hopefully gain more.'

Lawmaker Pan Pey-chyou, a vice-chairman of the FTU, which holds four Legco seats, said: 'When we voted for Leung Chun-ying en masse, we had already bet our reputation on him. If he does his job poorly, it will deal a blow to us in the Legco election. There is no way we can disavow the responsibility. If he does a good job, the public will think that we made the right decision.'

Asked if the party might benefit in September's polls should Leung's policies prove beneficial to Hongkongers, Pan said: 'We voted for him because we expected him to introduce such measures. If there is just empty talk, we will be disappointed.'

Even if there was a big turnout for this year's July 1 protest, Pan said, he was not worried that it would be a bad sign for their Legco campaign.

'Some protesters may take to the streets just based on their previous perceptions,' he said. 'But we all can see and judge how well he governs from July to September before the Legco vote.

'We did not deliberately distance ourselves from Leung after the election. Although we have expectations of him, we cannot blindly trust him,' he added.

Pan said the federation hoped to gain one seat in each of the five geographical constituencies, two seats in the labour functional constituency and one of the five new 'super seats' in the functional consitutuency for district councils, which will be voted on citywide.

The New People's Party hopes to win at least two seats, though Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, its chairwoman and only representative in Legco, worries about the consequences of her party's decision to support Leung at the last minute.

'I am a bit worried and I hope that he will perform well,' she said. 'We will closely monitor his performance as we supported him. We don't want him to encumber us.'

As an example of conduct that may concern her party, she called Leung's 90-minute visit to the central government's liaison office the day after he was elected 'unwise'.

'He has been accused of being too 'red'. Given that, he should not have chatted there for so long or visited so soon. Hongkongers are very sensitive to the importance of their city's high degree of autonomy.'

On the party's goal in the Legco polls, Ip said: 'Our possible number of seats is limited, as we are a new party that has run for just over a year.

'We can field more new faces in the district council polls. But in the Legco elections, even though my slate carries several more new faces, it will just be a warm-up exercise for them. It is difficult to rely on newcomers to grab the two seats.

'So it will mainly be up to me and several veterans.'

She said vice-chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun was considering running in New Territories West or for one of the five super seats.

While the parties that backed Leung have spoken of their concerns, the factions that opposed him have appeared to gain in public support.

In a poll of 812 adults conducted from March 27 to 29, the Liberal Party had the biggest increase in its popularity among local political groups compared with a similar poll conducted in February. Its support rating rose 1.3 percentage points to a two-year high of 2.8 per cent, leaping into fourth place from sixth two months ago. The DAB was the most popular, rising to 9.9 per cent from 9.5 per cent.

The Liberals' 29 Election Committee members refused to switch their support from Tang to Leung, and some cast blank votes.

'We did not take our prospects in the Legco election into consideration when deciding our voting intentions in the chief executive race,' Liberal Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee insisted.

In the Legco poll in 2008 the party suffered a severe setback, losing in all four geographical constituencies it contested.

The party's then chairman, James Tien Pei-chun, and deputy chairwoman, Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, failed to defend their directly elected seats, and resigned. Four of its seven remaining legislators broke away in 2009 to form a new group, Economic Synergy.

Lau said they were unfazed by the challenges.

'We will certainly contest direct elections again this year - though we have yet to set a target for how many seats we want to get.'

Meanwhile, the pan-democratic camp could win more support in September's election amid widespread discontent with the electoral system, said Dixon Sing Ming, an associate professor of social science at the University of Science and Technology. However, he questioned whether the poll would be perceived as fair, given the allegations of vote-rigging, and the liaison office's interference, in November's district council polls. 'Some may wonder if an invisible hand may interfere in the Legco election,' Sing said.

Ho, the Democratic Party chairman, vowed to stay vigilant in the upcoming Legco race.

'People must come out to vote, as our rivals are a well-run election machine and could be helped by the underground Communist Party. We cannot drop our guard,' he said.

Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit echoed Ho. 'We dare not to make an optimistic estimate [of how we will do in the Legco election]. Some may take a hard line against the pan-democratic camp in Leung's era.'

He would not say from whom any threats might come, but said that the smear tactics seen in the chief executive election showed how terrifying negative campaigning could be.

Radical People Power lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip, a vehement opponent of social injustice and of the current far-from-democratic electoral regime, said the party's chances of winning more Legco seats would hinge on whether people wanted change.

'Leung's popularity in the coming months will not affect our chances. If people want to see a change, they should vote for us,' Chan said.

He said his group, which has two Legco seats, was looking for five seats at most.

Meanwhile, the strains between Leung's and Tang's allies in the pro-establishment camp has added fire to the battle for seats in Legco's functional constituencies - reserved for members of 28 trades and professions.

There is speculation that Choy Chung-foo, the chief executive of BOC Group Life, who nominated Leung for the chief executive race, may challenge Chan Kin-por, the incumbent legislator for the insurance sector, who nominated Tang.

There is talk, too, that Freddy Yip Hing-ning, Goldjoy Travel managing director and a Leung supporter, and Ronnie Ho Pak-ting, ex-chairman of the Travel Industry Council, who nominated Tang, are planning to contest the tourism seat in a bid to unseat the incumbent, Paul Tse Wai-chun.

HKUST professor Sing said: 'Leung's and Tang's camps will be competing against each other in the Legco polls.

'Leung and Tang represent the interests of different groups. Tang is representing big property developers, while Leung is seen to be closer to smaller companies.

'Tang's followers will try all means to defend their seats. The strain can be eased only if Leung recruits those who supported Tang into his cabinet or the Executive Council.'

However, Sung, academic co-ordinator for City University's School of Continuing and Professional Education, said: 'There could be competition within Tang and Leung's camps, but it may not be a bloody contest.'

He doesn't believe the central government wants to see a repeat of the smear campaigns that characterised the chief executive race. 'Beijing and the liaison office have all along wanted the two sides to communicate and mend the divide after the chief executive election,' he said.


The share of voters who cast a blank vote in a mock election for chief executive, conducted by the University of Hong Kong