Carrie Lam is a shoo-in but that shouldn’t hinder serious debate

With three candidates vying to be Hong Kong’s next leader in a small-circle election, let’s hope that important issues are not swept under the carpet

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 1:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 1:03am

The first phase of the election of a new chief executive for Hong Kong is finally over, paving the way for a comparatively short, sharp campaign. Three contenders with enough nominations to stand as candidates have less than four weeks before the 1,194-member Election Committee picks the city’s next leader on March 26. The close of nominations last night was a defining threshold in the campaign. Until now candidates have been pitching to members of the committee for open nominations and positioning themselves strategically. Now they are campaigning head to head for votes that will be cast in secret.

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That said, the non-voting public could be forgiven for thinking that a victory for former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor over former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and former judge Woo Kwok-hing is just a formality. The total of her nominations is only 22 short of the majority she will need to win the race.

But the contenders will not only be trying to lock in or sway the votes of Election Committee members, but also to generate support outside the closed-circle election. Beijing’s backing for Lam weighed heavily in the nomination process. However, independent polling that shows trends in public opinion about personalities or issues will also be closely watched.

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The challenge for Lam now is to win over the public, among whom she trails Tsang in popularity. That is not an easy task at this late stage, but because the chief executive is likely to be most popular when first elected, it remains important to try to get off to a good start.

Regrettably, for those who like a clear choice and serious debate , former security minister and New People’s Party chief, directly elected lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee ,will not be among the candidates, having failed to win enough nominations. She was a credible contender, with a sense of pragmatism on a range of key issues from poverty and housing to government restructuring. It is disappointing that she has been frozen out to avoid splitting the establishment vote. It would have been interesting to have all four candidates standing, although Lam would still be likely to win comfortably.

With Tsang relying on nominations from the pan-democrat camp, and Lam getting none from that quarter, the campaigning from here on will have strong political undertones. But that should not stand in the way of serious, meaningful debate on a range of public concerns, from the critical issue of mainland-Hong Kong relations to housing, education, health ,the environment and what, if anything, should be done with the city’s huge fiscal reserves.