My Take

Beijing and the art of surprise-free elections

The Election Committee vote has thrown up some interesting scenarios for the central government to ponder as it looks to steer the chief executive race

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2016, 12:42am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 10:49am

If you want to know why Beijing refused to budge on the failed political reform last year, the latest election committee polls offer an answer. Then, a key issue was the central government’s insistence that the nominating committee must have the same sector composition as that of the election committee.

Even with its current structure, the voting for the committee on Sunday unexpectedly produced a large number of non-establishment winners. The pan-democratic/non-establishment groups made inroads in many key subsectors, including that for architecture, surveying, planning and landscape, which was previously allied with Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying. Leung is a surveyor by profession.

Pro-democracy camp takes record quarter of seats on Election Committee that will choose Hong Kong’s leader

The high turnout (46 per cent) was bolstered by many young and first-time voting professionals who harbour strong anti-establishment sentiment. They were helped by new seats assigned to the five subsectors of medical, health services, accountancy, engineering and architectural, surveying, planning and landscape. Call it the revenge of the young professionals.

As observed by an analyst with Executive Counsel, a consultant group: “It reflects strong disapproval of [Leung’s] administration that cannot even be mitigated by [Leung] not seeking a second term.”

“The young and first-time voters … have tactically used their suffrage to signal protest against what they perceive to be an increasingly intensified intervention from Beijing.”

Hong Kong Election Committee poll results ‘expose city professionals’ political unease’

Imagine if the reform package had offered further liberalisation of the committee by introducing a popular vote; the pro-establishment camp could well become a minority. As it is, the non-establishment groups still amount to a minority voting bloc, but possibly a critical one. Suppose we end up with three viable chief executive contenders – Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Executive and Legislative councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and John Tsang Chun-wah, who resigned as finance secretary this week. Tsang could have a decisive advantage with support from the pan-democrats and other anti-establishment members in the committee if the pro-establishment camp is split between Lam and Ip, both being perceived as more hardline.

After Leung Chun-ying, Beijing doesn’t need another Hong Kong hardliner

But the key is that any one of those candidates must be acceptable as chief executive to the central government. Beijing doesn’t like surprises. The point of having such an election committee is to make sure there never will be any.