CHIEF EXECUTIVE RACE

Beijing unlikely to stand in way of Hong Kong top job race winner to avoid ‘political storm’: think tank

Vice-chairman of top think tank says none of the three contenders poses threat to national interest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 March, 2017, 1:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 March, 2017, 11:56pm

Beijing cannot “easily” refuse to appoint as chief executive the winner of Hong Kong’s leadership election this month, as none of the three contenders poses a threat to the national interest, according to the vice-chairman of a top think tank on the city’s affairs.

The central government’s ­liaison office in the city is said to be lobbying hard for its preferred candidate, Carrie Lam Cheng ­Yuet-ngor. But office chief Zhang Xiaoming on Friday refused to answer questions about “interference” in the election.

Watch: Carrie Lam submits her nominations for Hong Kong leadership race

The Hong Kong government, meanwhile, denied a report ­suggesting it could send the ballot papers to mainland officials after the vote for fingerprint analysis, to find out how Election Committee members vote on March 26.

While former chief secretary Lam is the front runner, expected to win the backing of Beijing ­loyalists and pro-establishment forces dominating the committee, her main rival John Tsang Chun-wah is aiming for swing votes during the secret ballot.

Speculation that he will not be appointed even if he wins has ­intensified after a reported warning from elder statesman Tung Chee-hwa that Beijing may shun a winner it deems unacceptable.

It is not clear if Tung, a vice-chairman of China’s top advisory body, was referring to Tsang, the underdog who enjoys the most mass appeal among the three candidates.

Watch: Carrie Lam presents her manifesto

A source who attended the closed-door meeting with the former chief executive last month said Tung mentioned the former finance chief while talking about the importance of the central government’s trust in the city leader.

On Friday, Professor Lau ­Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the ­Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a think tank, said Beijing cannot “easily” refuse to appoint the winner, lest it spark a “political storm”.

Such a scenario would arise only when “there is an extreme ­situation where the central ­government believes a certain person would damage the interest of the nation or the central ­government or seriously threaten the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” Lau said in Beijing.

Even if the central government disapproved of the elected ­candidate, Lau said, a re-election would not lead to a different result as the Election Committee would remain the same. He said he did not envisage any of the candidates damaging the national interest if elected.

Watch: Carrie Lam talks to SCMP about her bid

Also in the capital yesterday, ­liaison office boss Zhang ­remained tight-lipped while ­confronted by Hong Kong journalists for the first time since the latest interference allegations.

Hong Kong’s Registration and Electoral Office issued a statement dismissing an article in the Chinese media alleging that mainland officials had warned Election Committee members that their ballot papers could be inspected for fingerprints to find out whom they voted for.

“The rumour mentioned in the commentary is totally groundless,” it said.

Normal practice is to keep ­ballot papers for six months and then destroy them.

Additional reporting by Stuart Lau