Beijing’s heavy lobbying for Carrie Lam as Hong Kong leader could backfire, academic warns

Basic Law expert says central government’s level of support risks undermining trust in election system and in next chief executive’s mandate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 9:02am

A legal scholar has warned that Beijing’s strong support for chief executive contender Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor risks undermining Hong Kong people’s trust in the 1,194-member Election Committee as well as the mandate of the next leader.

In an exclusive interview with the Post, Beihang University associate law professor Tian Feilong also acknowledged that Beijing needed to take such an approach toensure “political security”.

In Beijing’s view, winning over the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people is not a priority

Tian, 33, obtained his PhD from Peking University and researches on the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

If the rules were followed as understood by Hongkongers, the poll would be recognised as competitive
Tian Feilong, Beihang University

He was speaking days after National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang, the state leader overseeing Hong Kong and Macau affairs, told the city’s deputies to national bodies that Beijing had a “substantive” power to appoint the chief executive, and that it hoped for the election of a leader who fitted four criteria: “love the country and love Hong Kong”, be trusted by Beijing, be capable of governing, and be supported by Hong Kong people.

Lam admitted in a recent interview with the Post that receiving help from Beijing and its liaison office in Hong Kong could be counterproductive for her campaign.

Tian noted that while Hong Kong people “might not be upset” by the argument that Beijing had a substantive power to appoint the chief executive, “they don’t understand why the central government has to be so specific in supporting a candidate in particular”, rather than just playing the role of overseeing, or “adjudicating” the poll.

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

“The damage would be that even though the central government might barely ensure the election of its preferred candidate, the legitimacy of the Election Committee and the chief executive election … would further decrease,” he warned.

“If the rules were followed as understood by Hongkongers, the poll would be recognised as competitive, open and responsive to public opinion, but now Beijing’s strong intervention could hinder Hong Kong people’s confidence in the election. The governance and mandate of the chief executive so elected could be even weaker than [the city’s outgoing leader] Leung Chun-ying.”

Lam received 580 nominations from Election Committee members, compared with 180 for retired judge Woo Kwok-hing and 165 for former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, the most popular candidate in opinion polls.

Tian believed that after the election on March 26, Hong Kong people could become more supportive of Woo’s proposal to elect the committee by popular ballot. Apart from the 70 lawmakers, who are ex-officio representatives, members were elected by only 246,000 voters. The pan-democratic camp occupies more than a quarter of its seats.

Tian said the central government could have decided to take a “zero-risk” approach to the chief executive poll “based on political security considerations”.

Referring to a series of political conflicts since 2014, Tian said: “It is wary of the unresolved discontent in Hong Kong after the Occupy, localism and Hong Kong independence movements … It decided to block the opposition camp from venting such discontent in the leadership race as well.”