Beijing has learned lessons of the past and is playing chief executive election with a poker face

Last leadership election made it abundantly clear, there is a powerful, well organised and battle-ready anti-government force that leaves no stone unturned in its attempt to influence the outcome of the election

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 5:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 9:14pm

As the chief executive race heats up, it’s time to ask ourselves this sobering question: what, if anything, have we learned from the last three elections since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997?

Say what you will about Beijing, but it is apparent that it has the capacity to rectify and learn from the mistake it made in betting on the wrong horse in the last election. Five years ago, it let it be known early on that Henry Tang was its favourite candidate. This was not only embarrassing when Tang rendered himself unelectable by making one political blunder after another, but also contributed to an internal strife that has plagued the relationship between the Hong Kong government and the pro-establishment camp to this day. That’s why Beijing has so far played its hand with a poker face, keeping people guessing.

This testifies to the baffling nature of Hong Kong politics whose dynamic complexity is sometimes beyond Beijing’s prediction, let alone influence or control. So what are Hong Kong people to do under such circumstances? They say the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Well, so is the price of not being manipulated in this age of fake news, misinformation and disinformation.

If there is one thing that the last chief executive election made abundantly clear, it’s that there exists in Hong Kong a powerful, well-organised and battle-ready anti-Beijing and anti-government force that leaves no stone unturned in its attempt to influence the outcome of the election.

By outcome I mean not just who gets the top job of Hong Kong but a range of intended and unintended political consequences following the election, such as whether the result gives a boost or deals a blow to the government’s legitimacy and ability to govern, or its implications for the mainland-Hong Kong relationship.

Under the present political system, no matter how hard it tries, the anti-government force has no hope of enthroning a candidate Beijing doesn’t trust or approve of. That’s why it has no serious interest in being a kingmaker. What it is single-mindedly intent on doing, instead, is to make the king damaged goods in the eyes of Hong Kong people before he actually assumes office and takes power.

The success of this, if you will, dead-on-arrival approach, lies in destroying the relationship of trust between the people and the candidate who eventually gets elected.This is something that can be done much more easily than commonly believed.

J Edgar Hoover, the powerful first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States, found his niche in American politics as a “hunter of men”. Serving under 10 presidents over a period of five decades, he ruined the careers of his opponents and tainted the reputation of public figures by spreading half-truths and outright lies that cast doubt on their integrity.

Karl Rove, the Republican Party’s master manipulator who helped George W Bush win the presidency in both 2000 and 2004, put it simply. Destroying someone running for office is easy, he says. It’s not about telling the truth but engineering doubt.