John Tsang might know finance - but Carrie Lam’s loyalty makes her Beijing’s favourite to lead Hong Kong, says analyst

Former chief secretary considered the front runner to win the Hong Kong chief executive election on Sunday

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 4:51pm

Political loyalty to Beijing shown by Hong Kong’s chief executive candidate Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, especially during discussions on political reform, has won her the central government’s trust to take on the city’s top job, mainland scholars said.

Lam, a former chief secretary, is viewed as Beijing’s favourite ahead of the chief executive election on Sunday. Other contenders are ex-financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing.

“Lam has dealt with quite some challenging work. It’s given her more chance to show her loyalty to Beijing,” said Zou Pingxue, the director of Shenzhen University’s Centre for Basic Law studies.

“John Tsang dealt with financial affairs, which Beijing seldom seeks to point a finger at, but political reforms, I’m afraid, are mostly done as required by Beijing.”

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Lam led a government’s task force on political reform in Hong Kong before its findings were rejected by pan-democrats in 2015.

The reforms proposed by the government would have effectively allowed a 1,200-member nominating committee to vet and pre-approve candidates to stand as Chief Executive before people in Hong Kong could vote for them.

It followed a framework, the August 31 scheme, set by China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress.

“When Beijing officials lobbied for the August 31 scheme, they benefitted from the help of Hong Kong officials in relevant positions. Lam had better chance of showing her political traits.” said Zou

Beijing has emphasised four criteria for candidates for the city’s Chief Executive position: love for China and Hong Kong, trust by the central government, capability to govern and support from Hongkongers.

Popularity in the city was listed as the final criterion and was phrased in much vaguer terms than in the previous election.

The benchmarks for future candidates compare strongly with the qualities former Premier Wen Jiabao said candidates for Hong Kong’s top job needed in 2012.

A chief executive must have the support of the majority of the people of Hong Kong, he said.

The city’s voting elite took this as a clear signal to choose Leung Chun-ying over the unpopular Henry Tang Ying-yen to become the city’s leader.

Lam’s role as chief secretary offered her more opportunities to understand Beijing’s thinking, according to Tian Feilong, an associate law professor at Beihang University in Beijing.

“Lam’s role in political reform has given her more chances to communicate with the mainland government over the complicated task of balancing reform with economic development, which Tsang doesn’t have,” Tian said.

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Lam also better understood Beijing’s concern that political reform should not be put back on the agenda while society is still divided over the issue, leading her to place welfare policies and dealing with social problems more prominently in her election platform, Tian added.

Her tactics were quite different from Tsang’s, who was more inclined to stress political reform to win support from pan-democrats, he said.

“Lam’s loyalty and decisiveness is key to Beijing’s trust in her, but many people [in Hong Kong] only see the bad side of it. She could play a better role in merging Hong Kong into China’s economic strategy and help with more opportunities for economic transformation, plus better facilitate Hong Kong youth to work on the mainland,” said Tian.