Beijing worries that Hong Kong chief executive hopeful Carrie Lam may not be able to win enough votes on her own

City politician with close mainland links says this is reason for Beijing lobbying, even though it worries about its impact on front runner’s popularity

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 March, 2017, 6:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 9:33am

An all-out effort by Beijing is under way to support the campaign of chief executive contender Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor because the central government fears she may not secure enough votes on her own, according to a pro-establishment politician with close ties to mainland authorities.

The individual, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is a local member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, having met state leaders and senior mainland officials recently.

According to the politician, top Beijing officials noted the possibility that their high-profile lobbying for Lam could have a negative impact on the former chief secretary’s popularity.

In an interview with the Post last week, Lam also admitted that help from Beijing and its liaison office in the city could be “counterproductive” for her campaign.

Watch: Carrie Lam speaks to Post about her leadership bid

The anonymous source said: “Beijing officials are worried about the difficulties facing Lam’s governance if her popularity lags behind that of John Tsang Chun-wah significantly. But they said they had no choice under current circumstances.”

Tsang held a lead of 14.3 percentage points over Lam in a survey commissioned by the Post last month.

Meanwhile in closed-door meetings in Shenzhen, National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang, who oversees matters in the city, and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Wang Guangya told some local politicians that Lam was the central government’s preferred candidate.

Also during his meeting with Hong Kong and Macau delegates at the conference on Saturday, Zhang listed Beijing’s four criteria for the next chief executive – he or she must love the country and love Hong Kong, be trusted by Beijing, be capable of governing and be supported by the Hong Kong people.

The unnamed politician said President Xi Jinping had to be aware of the efforts of mainland officials throwing their weight behind Lam.

Watch: Zhang Dejiang speaks about criteria for top job

“But we can’t rule out the possibility of last-minute changes in Beijing’s position on the election given Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s stunning decision in December not to seek a second term,” the politician said.

Zhang had recommended to the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee that the central government should support Leung’s re-election, but this was rejected by Xi, the source said.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said he had heard a similar version of the incident which could have contributed to Leung’s withdrawal.

As for Lam, a mainland official handling Hong Kong affairs said the chance of no clear winner emerging on March 26 was low, but it was hard to predict if she could win more than 689 votes – Leung’s total in the 2012 chief executive election.

A candidate needs at least 601 votes from the 1,194-strong Election Committee to secure victory.