The numbers all add up for Carrie Lam in Hong Kong leadership race

As nominations flood in for the former chief secretary in the contest for the top job, arch-rival John Tsang is clinging to the slimmest of hopes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 1:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 2:25am

Front runner Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s chief executive election campaign received another boost on Monday as two pro-Beijing parties endorsed her for the top job.

Their support means the former chief secretary, seen as Beijing’s preferred choice, has secured more than the 150 nominations needed to enter the race from members of the 1,194-strong Election Committee that will pick the city’s next leader.

With the formal nomination process opening on Tuesday, the only question now is how many more she will garner and whether she will top 800, a number once reported to be the target of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.

The landslide for Lam also begs the question: is it game over for her arch-rival John Tsang Chun-wah?

On the first question, a ballpark estimate by the Post found Lam would comfortably secure at least 400 nominations, and that’s without taking into account some business subsectors, district council members and several social sectors, which have yet to make public their stances.

A closer look at the sums shows that Lam’s major backers will be from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which has recommended its more than 100 committee members opt for Lam. Another party, the Business and Professionals Alliance, made the same call to its 20 representatives.

Once the candidates get through the hoop of clearing the 150 requisite nominations, the committee will select from them the city’s leader on March 26.

Other groups that have endorsed Lam include the 18 voters of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, and at least half of the 18 from the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association, according to its president, Eddy Li Sau-hang.

As for Beijing advisers on the committee, Lo Man-tuen said the “absolute majority” of the 51 deputies in the sector of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – of which he is one – would nominate Lam.

“We favour Carrie Lam because she is the former No 2 official and is familiar with operations of the Hong Kong government,” Lo said.

Others groups that have yet to reach a final decision but are likely to nominate en-bloc or give majority support to Lam include the rural affairs body the Heung Yee Kuk, the agriculture and fisheries sector, the labour, insurance and sports sectors, and the Chinese Importers and Exporters’ Association.

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It is an open secret that Beijing’s liaison office has actively tried to signal that Lam is the preferred candidate in the hope of creating a landslide for her. The Post reported earlier that Zhang Dejiang, the third-ranking ­leader in the Politburo, was in Shenzhen last week to inform Hong Kong’s Beijing loyalists of the decision by the Communist Party’s highest body to back Lam.

So what can John Tsang do in the coming two-week nomination period?

The answer is clear from his itinerary: the former financial secretary can only rely on pan-democrats, who hold 326, or a quarter, of the Election Committee seats.

A source from Tsang’s office revealed he could need more than 100 nominations from pan-democrats to secure his entry ticket.

On Tuesday, Tsang will first meet the seven trade-based lawmakers who co-ordinate Democratic 300+, the loose alliance of voters from the camp. Then he will meet the camp’s voters in the accountancy sector, and members of the Civic Party in the evening.

“It’s not up to Tsang to decide now – he has no choice now,” said Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University. “Ideally, Tsang of course wanted to have a mix of nominations across the political spectrum, and a heavy reliance on pan-democrats would not look good in Beijing’s eyes.

“But the situation for him now is enter it or you’re done.”

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He said if Tsang managed to top Lam by a wide margin in popularity polls, there might still be a slim hope for him. And Choy believed some Beijing loyalists would make a U-turn and vote for Tsang in the secret ballot once he got through the first round, though no one could be sure how many “rebels” were out there.

During the nomination period, candidates are allowed to lobby for support. Election Committee members will pass their signed forms to the candidate they desire and the candidate will submit their nominations to the Registration and Electoral Office, in one go or in batches.

Although the pan-democrats may not be fully united in backing Tsang, it should not be too difficult for him to secure support from only half the camp and get his required 150 nominations.

The balance of 150 nominations from the camp could potentially benefit another contender, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing. But whether he could secure them would also depend on how many instead opt for lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the city’s former security minister who updated her platform over the weekend to appeal to the camp with a less conservative stance on political reform.

Ip said on Monday the pan-democrats “were not as unified” – hence, she sensed an opportunity. Whether she is right will become clearer in the coming days.

Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam