CITY BEAT TAMMY TAM
City Beat
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The pan-dem dilemma: run and lose in chief executive contest or play a tactical game?

In a scenario with several candidates seeking top job, the opposition camp could play role of kingmaker

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 October, 2016, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2016, 10:37pm

To run, or not to run: that is the question – for the pan-democratic camp.

To Beijing, that can also be a major consideration in adjusting its strategies regarding when to endorse its preferred candidate and how many from the pro-establishment camp should run for Hong Kong’s top job.

Yet it’s a matter that the pan democratic camp has failed to reach a consensus on so far, and it seems even more difficult to settle, given the chaotic start of the new Legislative Council’s term.

Looking back, the camp did participate in the previous two chief executive elections for one simple reason: to bring “competition” into what they criticised as a “small-circle” election. So four years ago, it was then Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan competing with former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and his arch rival Leung Chun-ying; while in 2007, it was Alan Leong Kah-kit from the Civic Party fighting a lost battle with Donald Tsang Yam-kuen who was seeking re-election.

This time, strangely, the camp seems to be in a dilemma over coming up with a logical and convincing excuse for not running.

Technically speaking, there should not be any difficulty for the camp to meet the threshold for putting forward one candidate with a minimum 200 nominations, since the pan-democrats have slightly more than 200 supporters within the current 1,200-member Election Committee that will pick Hong Kong’s next leader. The new line up of the committee to be formed later this year is expected to have even more pan-democratic figures.

But, first and foremost, where can they find the candidate?

Another more critical question is why on earth the camp would want to nominate someone at all?

With younger and more radical localists sitting in the Legco chamber now, the traditional opposition forces are already finding it hard to sustain the “pan-democratic” label, thus giving rise to a wider “non-establishment” grouping. Such a new situation is bound to be followed by a completely new type of political negotiating within the group.

Reaching a consensus on one candidate to represent the entire camp is by no means an easy task. Another more critical question is why on earth the camp would want to nominate someone at all?

While some, including Alan Leong, believe it’s only natural to challenge Beijing’s choice, others who disagree find it meaningless, since the camp does not have the slightest chance of winning and would only unintentionally help add a veneer of democracy to the race. Thus comes a different argument this time: why not make better use of their more than 200 votes in the Election Committee instead of making candidates join a race they are doomed to lose?

Some are calculating that given the possibility of Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and some others acceptable to Beijing running against incumbent Leung Chun-ying, whoever secures more than 601 votes – or over half of the 1,200 – will win. Excluding the 200 committee members from the pan-democratic camp, the pro-establishment bloc has an estimated 900-plus votes.

Under such circumstances, Beijing has to consider the possible risks of a too-close-to-call scenario, as allowing multiple candidates to run may end up with none able to secure enough votes. This, indirectly, can turn the pan-democrats into “kingmakers” if they choose to back one candidate over another, such as Tsang over Leung, whom they hate.

The question is, is it just conjecture that they will eventually support a Beijing-backed candidate? Newly elected young lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick has already warned there is no logic for the pan-democrats to do so. And Beijing will understandably do all it can to ensure opposition forces don’t have more room to manoeuvre and influence the election.

Expect plenty of drama ahead.