Regina Ip for chief executive? Why not, Hong Kong?

Yonden Lhatoo says the formerly reviled minister’s impressive ability to reinvent herself, and her formidable credentials, should stand her in good stead in 2017 – should she run

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 October, 2015, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:41am

On Monday morning, I was asked to moderate an exclusive breakfast gathering of senior Hong Kong business executives with legislator and executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee  as the guest speaker.

The meeting, organised by the Post, was held behind closed doors under the Chatham House Rule, which means I can’t reveal the details of what was said, but suffice to say she gave us a fascinating insight into what the city is facing as it prepares to pick a new leader in 2017.

She was candid, eloquent and incisive in dissecting what has gone wrong in Hong Kong over the past years and in proposing possible solutions to pull us out of the political, economic and social morass we find ourselves in these days.

She was also, understandably, evasive about whether she will run in the chief executive election, but it got me thinking that she’s probably the best candidate for the top job. I’m being a realist here.

We can rule out the pan-democrats, because after rejecting the government’s political reform proposals, there’s no point fielding a candidate from their camp. Thanks to them, the status quo remains, and Hong Kong’s next leader will be picked by the same Election Committee – a small circle of 1,200 special-interest representatives – that crowned incumbent Leung Chun-ying with just 689 votes in 2012.  

Among the motley crew of pro-establishment figures who are likely to run, much is being made of Antony Leung Kam-chung of the “Lexusgate” scandal. He left the government in disgrace in 2003 after he was exposed for buying a luxury car just weeks before he sharply raised taxes on new vehicles as financial secretary. That kind of baggage comes back to drag you down in these highly politicised times when chief executive candidates are expected to be whiter than white.

Leung Chun-ying himself must be into self-flagellation if he’s running for a second term.

Surely he’s figured out by now, after all the hate and vitriol directed at him over the past 3½ years, that when it comes to governing Hong Kong, he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

It should be pretty clear to everyone, including the powers that be in Beijing, that he is a polarising figure.   

Enter Ip. She’s come a long way since 2002-2003, when she was the most reviled public figure while spearheading the government’s campaign to introduce national security legislation.

As the security minister, she was at the top of her game at the time, and whether it was the executive power going to her head or the pressure of handling such an explosive political matter, she came across as elitist, arrogant and abrasive. It was easy to hate her.

I have to say, though, that a lot of the venom directed at her was sexist and misogynistic. The bushy hairstyle that earned her the nickname “Broomhead” was an example of that. Here was a tough, competent woman doing her job, and everyone made fun of her appearance.

Well, she’s changed her hairstyle now. And more importantly, she’s a different person. She’s worked her way back up from the bottom to become an influential lawmaker and the head of her own political party.

These days, she comes across to me as a sincere and capable leader who genuinely cares about Hong Kong and is really committed to public service. She’s also squeaky clean, as far as I know.

She still needs to work on her soft power a bit, but there’s plenty of time to get that sorted out.

Regina Ip as Hong Kong’s next chief executive? Why not? We’d do well to vote for her – oh, hang on, I just remembered, we can’t.