The gloves are off in Hong Kong’s chief executive election, and no one’s pretending it will be a fair and open contest this time

Albert Cheng says the only hope is that pro-establishment Election Committee members will vote with their conscience in the secret ballot, where the pan-democrats can still make a difference

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 4:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 6:09pm

This chief executive election is turning out to be the ugliest and dirtiest of all. Since reunification with China, Hong Kong has had five leadership elections. The size of the Election Committee has expanded from 400 to 1,200 members, but still falls far short of genuine universal suffrage.

The first three elections managed to display the illusion of being “fair, open and just”, though the central government did, both openly and covertly, exert its influence to safeguard its preferred candidate.

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Everything appeared to be clean and above board until the last election, when a bitter battle ensued between Leung Chun-ying and Henry Tang Ying-yen, setting a bad precedent for the upcoming election.

This year, before the Election Committee had even been elected, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying sought, with the help of the central government’s liaison office, to manipulate the mainstream media.

Rumours began swirling that the delayed approval of John Tsang Chun-wah’s resignation was a sign that Beijing was flashing a red light. This was clearly a tactic to deter him from running,

After Leung’s announcement that he would not seek re-election, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor ate her words and took up where her former boss had left off. She has inherited Leung’s support and kick-started her campaign early. She can now claim the West Kowloon Palace Museum and Hong Kong-Shenzhen innovation and technology park projects as her official achievements.

Lam was quoted as saying, at a private meeting with senior editors, that she had decided to run in order to save Hong Kong from a constitutional crisis, because Beijing would refuse to appoint certain candidates, even if they were duly elected. In effect, she implied that she was Beijing’s choice. Those present took her remarks to mean that Tsang was politically unpalatable.

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Her remarks were meant to be off the record. Obviously, some of those present found her assertion so explosive, if not offensive, that they decided to leak it to media outlets that were not invited to the briefing. Her words eventually made headlines.

Lam has subsequently denied the reports and maintained that she only made a factual description of the appointment of chief executive as written in the Basic Law. She argued that she was still adapting to her new identity outside the administration.

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Meanwhile, reports abound of the liaison office rallying around Lam. Some have suggested that local Chinese officials are playing the role of kingmaker, and have been calling up Election Committee members and business concerns to support Lam.

The pan-democratic members of the Election Committee represent a large group of Hong Kong people

In previous elections, this was done subtly. This time round, it seems they have been doing it so blatantly that they do not even bother to maintain a facade that the election is fair.

The people can only hope against hope that a sizeable number of the privileged pro-establishment Election Committee members will be sensible enough to exercise an independent mind in the secret ballot.

In the election to become members of the Election Committee, the pan-democrats won a record 326 seats by advocating a clear agenda: “Anyone But CY”. They are now a critical minority in the election. Though their power is limited, the public have high hopes of them.

In fact, the pan-democratic members of the Election Committee represent a large group of Hong Kong people. They must not vote based on their own political stance or interests. Instead, they should fully reflect the public will in the election.

In each of the first three chief executive elections, there was one nominee from the pan-democratic camp to expose the absurdity of the small-circle election. They are still debating how best to exercise their ballots this time.

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The pan-democrats should, in fact, field a candidate from within their ranks who meets their requirements, so their standard bearer can take the opportunity to put forward their policies during the campaign debates.

This would highlight the inadequacies of the pro-establishment candidates and, hopefully, press them to commit to more action with regard to pro-democratic and welfare policies.

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