I do not know if lobbying by Beijing is illegal, Hong Kong chief executive hopeful Carrie Lam says

Former chief secretary refuses to ask Beijing’s local representatives to stop canvassing for her

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 11:24pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 11:46pm

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the presumed front runner in the race for Hong Kong’s top job, refused to publicly ask Beijing’s local representatives to stop canvassing support for her, adding she was “not legally trained” to judge if their action was constitutional.

“Why should I say no to the liaison office?” Lam said, ­responding to a media question about whether she dare not say no to the liaison office amid claims it lobbied pro-establishment Election Committee members.

Commenting on a poll commissioned by the Post and released on Thursday that showed her popularity lagging behind that of arch-rival John Tsang Chun-wah by 14 percentage points, she conceded that her links with incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the central government explained her unpopularity.

“This election is not entirely fair for me,” she lamented. “I have many labels like CY2.0 and anointment by Beijing.”

Reports of mainland officials, including No 3 official Zhang Dejiang, calling on committee members to nominate Lam have drawn criticism that Beijing was interfering in local politics.

Asked if that amounted to contravention of Article 22 of the Basic Law – which bars the central government from interfering in affairs within Hong Kong’s autonomy – the former chief secretary said: “I am not a legally trained person … In fact [Article] 22 is more a constitutional principle rather than a piece of very rigid legislation that requires compliance or whatever.”

Her election rival, former High Court judge Woo Kwok-hing, had said Hong Kong should put forward legislation on the article. Lam, though, said she had no such plan.

Speaking on an online programme hosted by former Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, Lam refused repeatedly to directly demand Beijing stop galvanising support for her.

“If you want me to tell others not to participate [in electioneering] or influence others or recommend anyone, fine, but everyone has to say it, and it should not be limited to any single institution,” she said, adding that she believed Hongkongers wanted to see the candidates competing through their own efforts and manifestos.

But when asked why so many pro-Beijing nominators were behind her before she announced her manifesto, she said it was more important to focus on candidates’ track record of delivering policies, adding that a manifesto “is just a promise, whether it can or cannot be delivered”.

Lam insisted she was personally running her campaign. “I didn’t just sit back or relied only on social media,” she said.

Despite the apparent strong support behind Lam from pro-establishment voters, Tsang on Friday remained “very optimistic” that he could secure nominations from at least 150 members of the 1,194-strong Election Committee.

The former financial secretary affirmed his confidence after the Friends of Hong Kong Association openly supported Lam.

The association claimed on Thursday that its 194 representatives on the committee – which will select the city’s next leader on March 26 – would back Lam. But core association member Henry Tang Ying-yen admitted it would be hard to get all 194 to vote as a bloc.

Tsang said: “Many Election Committee members have different leanings. I absolutely respect their choices.”

“I remain very optimistic about securing enough nominations to enter the next stage,” he said.

After bagging the necessary nominations, a candidate will need more than 600 votes to become the city’s leader.

Tsang also said his crowdfunding effort had raised HK$4.5 million from more than 22,000 donors. He had raised another HK$600,000 from cheques mailed to his campaign office, he added.

In another development, Woo Kwok-hing met the city’s biggest pro-Beijing political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, on Friday.

Party chairwoman Starry Lee Wai-king said she agreed with Woo’s slogan that Hong Kong should be put “back on the right track”. But the party had not decided who to nominate, she said.