The large turnout at Tuesday’s anti-government protest will weaken Beijing’s plan to have a strong chief executive re-elected in Hong Kong’s historic 2017 poll, a leading pro-Beijing business leader said on Wednesday.
Legislator James Tien Pei-chun, of the pro-establishment Liberal Party, said the turnout deepened Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s governance crisis and weakened Beijing’s hope that the chief executive will win the 2017 poll – the city’s first direct election for the top job.
“[Beijing’s] master plan for 2017 – when Hong Kong people can directly elect the chief executive – is to have them choose someone who is preferred [by Beijing]. If [Leung] stays on, it is quite impossible for him to win a direct election” because of his integrity issues, Tien said in an interview on Commercial Radio.
“Is it possible that at some point [they] will replace [Leung] with a more capable person, who is supported and trusted by the people and the central government, who can stay on until [after] universal suffrage? I think the possibility exists.”
On Tuesday, tens of thousands of marchers participated in a series of demonstrations – mostly calling for Leung’s resignation, although several thousand rallied to support the chief executive.
In the largest demonstration, organisers said more than 130,000 people marched to demand Leung’s resignation, while police put the turnout at 26,000.
It was too early to say who Beijing may be considering as a potential replacement for Leung, Tien said. Rumours have pointed to Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah as possible substitutes.
Tien’s younger brother Michael Tien Puk-sun, vice-chairman of the New People’s Party, has been mentioned as a black horse. But James Tien said he did not consider those reports credible.
James Tien claimed wide public attention in 2003 when he resigned from the Executive Council over a controversy about the enactment of the Article 23 national security law. Without the support of Tien’s party, the government withdrew the bill.
Tien is also well known as a supporter of former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, who lost the chief executive election to Leung in March. Tien recently said Leung “cheated” to win support from the public and the central government in the run-up to the chief executive election, by not addressing illegal structures at his home on The Peak.