Former Hong Kong leader calls for unprecedented meeting with 200 local advisers to Beijing over chief executive race

Tung Chee-hwa, long a supporter of incumbent Leung Chun-ying, calls for unprecedented gathering ahead of December 11 election committee meeting

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 11:42am

With less than six months to go ­before Hong Kong chooses a new leader, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa on Tuesday reflected the high stakes involved by ­taking the unprecedented step of inviting about 200 local delegates to China’s top political advisory body to discuss plans for the ­coming election.

The move was widely seen as a sign that Beijing is not leaving anything to chance, even among its staunchest loyalists, given how close the race may be in March.

The gathering was held at ­Beijing’s liaison office in Western district amid continuing signs of disunity in the pro-establishment camp and the pan-democrats’ vow to secure a bigger say by winning up to 300 seats on the 1,200-strong Election Committee, which will pick the city’s next leader.

No clear signal about the leadership race emerged from the meeting, although a source who attended said the delegates were told Beijing would like them to “play an active role in Hong Kong affairs, and take into account the city’s big picture”.

On Monday, former finance minister Antony Leung Kam-chung said Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, widely tipped to be a possible challenger to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying if he seeks re-election, could “unite Hong Kong”.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a local delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, told the Post it was the first time for Tung, a CPPCC vice-chairman, to invite all Hong Kong delegates for a meeting to discuss plans for the leadership race.

Tung, now an elder statesman, is regarded as a key supporter of Leung Chun-ying, having ­appointed him as convenor of his cabinet, the Executive Council, in 1999, and backed him for the top job during the 2012 race.

CPPCC standing committee member Chan Wing-kee said the hour-long meeting only dealt with the selection process among about 200 delegates to pick their 51 representatives on the Election Committee.

The four-sector committee comprises the city’s business elite, professionals, unionists and politicians. The poll for its members is scheduled for December 11.

“We agreed that our 51 representatives will be decided by internal consultation ... and priority will be given to the more senior delegates and standing committee members,” Chan said. That means the 51 shortlisted candidates will be returned uncontested as committee members.

Leung was a member of the CPPCC standing committee ­before his election as chief executive in March 2012. He was ­narrowly returned as one of the 55 CPPCC representatives on the committee in December 2011.

Only six of Leung’s colleagues on the CPPCC nominated him for the chief executive race, compared with 35 who endorsed his rival Henry Tang Ying-yen. It was understood that some of them did not vote for Leung in the poll.

Some delegates sought to play down the significance of Tung’s role, claiming they had received an invitation from the ­liaison ­office, or that Tung had chaired similar meetings in the past.

But Chinese University political scientist Dr Ma Ngok and a second source familiar with ­Beijing’s preparations for the Election Committee polls said it reflected Beijing’s anxiety about losing control.

“The pro-establishment camp has been disunited, and Beijing could be worried about its less preferred delegates winning [on December 11],” Ma said.