Hong Kong’s next leader may already have emerged – if we take a Hollywood classic as a guide

Albert Cheng says with C.Y. Leung having little chance of a second term, ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ complement of likely chief executive hopefuls already has a front runner

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 9:41am

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, the classic movie starring Clint Eastwood, best describes the potential candidates who will make their debut in the upcoming farcical small-circle election for the next chief executive.

I have discounted incumbent Leung Chun-ying, as his chance of securing a second term is minimal. If President Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ) and his camp were in favour of the so-called “tough as steel” Leung who tackles the opposition roughly, the chief executive would have tossed his hat in the ring long ago.

Under the unfair electoral system, people with no vote can only hope for the lesser of the evils to win through

Indeed, if the central government had given Leung the green light, as it did his predecessors Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in their time, no other pro-Beijing individual would have expressed their interest in competing with the “chosen one”.

Since former judge Woo Kwok-hing declared his candidacy, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor have intentionally or unintentionally, subtly or explicitly, indicated that they would consider joining the race. Leung is the only one who has not spilled the beans yet. The three runners-to-be – Tsang, Ip and Lam – seem a perfect fit for “the good, the bad and the ugly” roles respectively.

It is plain as day that the man of humour and charm, Tsang, is “the good” in the eyes of the majority of Hongkongers. Indeed, one does not have to be astoundingly capable to win people’s hearts, especially when a rival is the hated Leung.

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Woo is also regarded as “the good” due to his righteousness and outspokenness. His criticism of Leung’s governance has hit the nail on the head and resonates with the general public at this time of turbulence. This has made the retired judge stand out. Popular as he is, Tsang would certainly not comment openly on issues that go against Beijing. Doubtless, Woo would wipe out all other aspirants in a democratic “one person, one vote” election.

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So, then, who is “the bad”? No one fills that position better than Ip, who is openly ambitious to become the first “queen” of the city. Four years ago, as the rivalry between Leung and Henry Tang Ying-yen intensified for the 2012 race, Ip could not hold back her ambition and announced that she was all ready to join the election.

A leopard cannot change its spots. This year, right after the Legislative Council election, she visited the central government’s liaison office. She reportedly turned down Chinese officials’ offer to become Legislative Council president and is apparently more interested in the chief executive post.

Innocence lost in the dirty fight to choose Hong Kong’s chief executive

If Ip is “the bad”, she has caused less harm than Lam, who encapsulates “the ugly” side of politics. She positions herself as a capable, combative but humble civil servant, but as the Chinese proverb goes, there is a type of characters who “hides a dagger behind a smile”. Lam is such a person. With her masquerade, others often have to second-guess her real intentions. Take the case of illegal structures in the New Territories. As development secretary, she mounted a high-profile campaign against the chronic problem, to the accolades of the general public. Yet, she has had no practical plans, the necessary resources, or even the political will to really confront the vested interests in the New Territories. The applause for her seems, now, to have been at the expense of a more polarised society.

At an event recently hosted by the Institute of Architects, Lam said she would not join the chief executive race, but her track record suggests her words cannot be taken at face value.

Four years ago, Lam stood a slim chance of becoming chief secretary. But, after Henry Tang’s political career imploded, her contribution to Leung’s victory was rewarded with the promotion. Following the latest interpretation of the Basic Law, Lam has spoken on the same political frequency as Leung, in order to show her loyalty to Beijing.

In Hong Kong, under the unfair electoral system, people with no vote can only hope for the lesser of the evils to win through. Who can really lead us out of our adversity? This is a question with an answer.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk