John Tsang can’t solve Hong Kong’s deeper problems, says key Carrie Lam ally

Campaign chief and executive councillor Chan says city does not need a ‘honeymoon’ leader

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 11:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 4:30pm

Hong Kong does not need a “honeymoon” leader like John Tsang Chun-wah, but someone who can tackle decisively the pressing issues of a widening wealth gap and the impact on people’s livelihood of integration with the mainland, the director of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s election campaign has said.

And Bernard Chan said ­political reform – which Tsang has vowed to restart – would be ­“impossible” before those problems are solved. Despite saying that, he lamented an election system that makes hopefuls run two campaigns – one for small-circle votes and one for popular support – as “exhausting and unfair”.

If she wins, Lam will need to win over the centre ground of people who are neither hard-core sceptics nor loyal supporters of the Communist Party, he said.

Two weeks ahead of the March 26 election, Chan told the Post on Monday that he had originally offered to nominate Tsang, before Lam changed her mind and joined the race.

“In the end I decided to support Carrie because John’s emphasis on respite may not solve the basic livelihood problems,” he said, in a reference to Tsang’s stated intention to cool political strife in the city after a tumultuous few years.

The executive councillor said Lam seems more capable of solving what he sees as the three major problems facing Hong Kong: the city’s widening wealth gap; the effect on Hongkongers’ livelihoods brought by integration with the mainland; and the need for a new style of governance.

“When you have a nicer person to be the new CE, you may be able to buy time and enjoy the honeymoon. But the basic problems are still there and super-challenging,” he said, in an apparent reference to Tsang, who leads Lam in public opinion polls.

“The question is: do I want a CE to deal with the first and second issues?”

Tsang has said political reform needs to be tackled first as it is the ultimate source of conflict in society. He has also suggested measures to narrow the wealth gap in his platform, such as the introduction of a “negative income tax” to reduce the burden on the poor.

Chan, who runs a financial business, had a close working relationship with Lam when she was development minister, having taken up key public posts in her area including heritage conservation and sustainable development.

He said the key to Lam boosting her public support – as well as trailing in public opinion polls, she missed out on pan-democrat support on the Election Committee – was to win over the middle ground.

He said he assumes about a third of Hongkongers distrust the Chinese Communist Party, while another third supports it, while the rest are “pragmatic” and have stances that vary from issue to issue.

It is this last group that Lam should seek to soften, he said, admitting there is “no way to win back” the diehard opponents.

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Beijing’s liaison office has been accused of interfering in the election, but Chan said Beijing has a right to assess the candidates and public opinion.

The central government would only be more reactive to the Hong Kong political situation after 2014’s pro-democracy Occupy protests, he added.

He said he did not believe the office had manipulated many pro-establishment voters in the 1,194-member Election Committee because most members he had met made a lot of demands.

“You are conducting two campaigns at the same time – dealing with the 1,200 people and also seven million people. This is exhausting and unfair to the candidates,” he said, stressing it was important to win over public opinion.

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The Election Committee will pick the city’s next leader. The winner – chosen from Lam, Tsang and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing – needs 601 votes.

Chan said it was a mistake for lawmakers to block the government’s reform for universal suffrage in 2015, which would have meant electing the city leader by popular vote. Though the election committee would have screened candidates, it would not have blocked anyone lightly, he said.

Chan said Lam, if elected, would work ­independently of the liaison office, including lobbying for legislative support.

“She can be more effective on her own than having help,” he said.