Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing thanks 21 backers for voting ‘with their consciences’

Underdog in leadership race urges chief executive-elect Carrie Lam to unite city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 2:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 11:21pm

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who failed in his bid for the city’s top job, was thankful for the 21 voters who backed him “with their consciences” even though his chances of becoming Hong Kong’s chief executive had been slim from the beginning.

Woo said he did not regret joining the race and hoped that his spirit of speaking the truth and never giving up would motivate and encourage other Hongkongers .

He urged chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to keep her promises of uniting the city and always listen to the opinions of others.

“I never estimated how many votes I could get, and 21 is really good,” Woo said after Sunday’s election.

“I am deeply thankful to the 21 voters, who are people who stuck with their principles and voted with their consciences.”

He said he hoped the proposals in his election platform would win public support and see future implementation.

Right from the start of the chief executive race, Woo was seen as the least likely candidate to win the city’s top job.

Woo, who was the first to announce that he would run, managed to secure enough support to get an entry ticket as the second candidate after former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah submitted his nomination papers.

Woo and Tsang were in keen competition in seeking support from the pan-democratic camp.

It is understood that Tsang had an agreement with the pan-democrats that they should use their remaining nominations to back Woo.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, seen as Beijing’s preferred choice, obtained her nominations from the pro-establishment camp.

“I have an understanding from the beginning that those who nominated him into the race might not necessarily backed him in the election. So I would not say they lied to me,” said Woo in reply to a question on Sunday.

In making his surprise announcement on October 26 that he wanted to join the race, Woo revealed his top priority was political reform.

He said he was running to oppose incumbent Leung Chun-ying, whom he said was too “divisive” a figure for Hong Kong.

What Woo said at his first press conference drew approval from some Hongkongers.

He also struck a chord with pan-democratic supporters and raised eyebrows when he said he would have joined the city’s Occupy protests in 2014 if he were “50 years younger”, citing peer pressure and the “radical views” he held in his youth.

His advocacy of a controversial national security law – he said Hong Kong should make the law itself before Beijing tried to impose a mainland version – may not have pleased everyone, but at least some pro-democracy lawyers, such as Edward Chan King-sang, said that was a reasonable view.

Woo is the third judge to run for the top post in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Former chief justice Yang Ti-liang and senior judge Simon Li Fook-sean ran in 1996 but lost to Tung Chee-hwa, who ­became the city’s first chief executive in July 1997.

Born in 1946, Woo is the fourth child in a family of 10 children. He graduated from Ying Wah College in 1965 and studied law in England, receiving his Master of Laws from University College London in 1969.

Woo has been involved in the legal profession for nearly his entire adult life. He was called to the British Bar in 1969 and the Hong Kong Bar in 1970. He practised private law from 1970 to 1992, was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1987 and a High Court judge in 1992.

In a booklet laying out his blueprint, Woo said his childhood life in Jordan inspired him to be a lawyer. He recalled the restless scenes he saw in that part of Hong Kong as he wandered there every night: “I often saw a man, clad in a black Chinese-style suit with all four pockets in his shirt filled with money, coming to collect money from the hawkers ... I knew he was collecting ‘protection fees’.

“This planted anger in my mind, and I hoped one day I could fight this evil force. That’s how I became a barrister, to build a just and charitable society.”

Some dismissed Woo’s challenge owing to his lack of political experience, but he said he had taken up “pioneering” and challenging roles in public service. These included heading the Electoral Affairs Commission, the Commission on Interception of Communications and Surveillance and several independent inquiry panels.

The chief executive hopeful stepped down as a deputy High Court judge on October 18 and announced his candidacy a week later.