Chief Executive Election

Trust is key ahead of Hong Kong leadership poll as Beijing shows its preference for Lam over Tsang, scholars say

As the showdown for top job reaches its climax, Beijing is seeking to reward Carrie Lam for her loyalty while giving John Tsang the cold shoulder

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 11:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 11:05am

The difference in political loyalty shown to Beijing by the two key rivals in the chief executive race explained why the central government trusted front runner Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor more than popular underdog John Tsang Chun-wah, mainland scholars and advisers have said.

Former chief secretary Lam, viewed as favourite ahead of Sunday’s election, had demonstrated her loyalty during talks on political reform, they said.

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A veteran leftist said Tsang, the former financial secretary, was not trusted because he lacked commitment in opposing the 2014 Occupy protests and ignored a Beijing warning not to enter the race. He was even accused of being “an agent of pan-democrats” and US backed.

Tsang on Friday dismissed those accusations as totally groundless and the result of electioneering by rivals. Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing is also standing.

“Lam has dealt with some quite challenging work. It has given her more of a chance to show her loyalty to Beijing,” said Zou Pingxue, director of the Centre for Basic Law studies at Shenzhen University.

“Tsang dealt with financial affairs, which Beijing seldom seeks to point a finger at, but political reforms, I’m afraid, are mostly done as required by Beijing,” Zou said.

Lam led a government task force on political reform before its findings were rejected by pan-democrats in 2015.

The reforms proposed by the government would have effectively allowed a 1,200-member nominating committee to vet and pre-approve candidates to stand as chief executive before people in Hong Kong could vote for them.

Beijing ‘doesn’t trust John Tsang because he ignored its warning not to run’ in Hong Kong chief executive election

It followed a framework set by China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress.

Tian Feilong, an associate law professor at Beihang University in Beijing, said Lam’s role as chief secretary offered her more opportunities to understand Beijing’s thinking.

He said Lam also better understood Beijing’s concern that political reform should not be put back on the agenda while society was still divided over the issue, leading her to place welfare and social problems more prominently in her election platform.

On the other hand, Lo Man-tuen, vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference’s subcommittee on foreign affairs, cited three reasons in the Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao Daily why Tsang was not trusted by Beijing.

Citing his source, the veteran leftist wrote that Tsang’s first problem was his “lack of principles on major issues” – the pro-democracy Occupy protests and last year’s Mong Kok riot – along with his “laid-back” working style, remaining silent in cabinet meetings and focusing on drawing pictures in his notebook.

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The second reason, Lo said, was that “Tsang has become a political figure that runs counter to the central government”, as he chose to ignore signals against running for the top job.

Lo claimed the final reason was his relationship with the pan-democrats and the United States. Tsang is supported by figures who Beijing sees as friendly to the US.

The campaign office for Tsang said the claims were totally groundless, saying his “love for the country and Hong Kong has never changed”.

It also said Tsang had participated in the anti-Occupy signature campaign, and openly condemned the Mong Kok riot.

Tsang had expected smear tactics during the crucial stage of the election, but he believed in public wisdom, it said.