Pro-establishment no-shows at Hong Kong CE race debate caused Lam to feel the heat

Only some 28 per cent of Election Committee members from camp showed up, but observers say the bloc has already made its decision

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 7:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 10:31pm

The poor turnout of pro-establishment members on the Election Committee at Sunday’s chief executive election forum contributed to front runner Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor becoming the main target of attacks, with an overwhelming 90 per cent of audience questions filed from the opposition bloc.

The three candidates – Lam, John Tsang Chun-wah, and Woo Kwok-hing – crossed swords for the last time before the 1,194-strong Election Committee picks the city’s next leader on Sunday.

The 150-minute debate saw the participation of 507 committee members – roughly divided between pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps – organisers said.

Carrie Lam faces social media backlash after final debate

In 2012, the attendance of committee members from both blocs at a similar forum for the leadership race was 600.

Given that there are 868 pro-establishment members on the current committee, it meant only some 28 per cent travelled to AsiaWorld-Expo on Lantau for last Sunday’s forum.

The three candidates took 21 questions from the floor, 19 of which were from the pan-democrats.

Some 189 members from both camps had filed questions and put them in a box before the forum began. The questions were drawn randomly by the moderators.

Many of the questions drawn targeted Lam, with topics ranging from her refusal to go to Tin Shui Wai to meet grass-roots groups, to her failed policy to rid the New Territories of illegal structures when she was development chief.

Edward Lau Kwok-fan of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said he was satisfied with the forum, and did not feel that arrangements were unfair to Lam.

“I believe Lam has been prepared to take whatever questions from the floor ... she also took the opportunity to show her ability to handle difficult questions,” Lau, a supporter of the former chief secretary, said.

But he agreed that it would have been better if questions were separated according to sectors.

“This would help widen the variety of the questions. If all questions are put in one box and then drawn randomly, there might be a chance that the selected questions are from only one or two sectors dominated by one political camp,” Lau added.

A spokesman for the forum’s organising committee, pan-democratic lawmaker Charles Mok, described the turnout as “acceptable”.

He added that all parties had agreed upon the event arrangements, which were similar to those in 2012.

Political scientist Dr Chung Kim-wah of Polytechnic University said the lukewarm response from the pro-establishment camp was expected.

“Many of them had made up their minds long before the debate. Regardless of how good or bad a candidate’s performance was on that night, they will not change their decisions. So, it was irrelevant whether they filed questions or not,” Chung said.

But he agreed that Lam was subjected to more pressure as too many of the questions were directed at her.

A spokesman for Lam’s campaign office said she did not feel that she was unfairly targeted at the forum, and that the format was also agreed upon by all candidates.