My Take

In game of musical chairs, someone has to go

The race is on for Hong Kong’s next leader but with a crowded field, one candidate – John Tsang or Regina Ip – may have to withdraw

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 1:28am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 1:28am

Four candidates are too many for the chief executive race, Elsie Leung Oi-sie says. The Basic Law Committee vice-chairwoman presumably knows something about Beijing’s thinking. And we should not be surprised. During the bitter fight over the government’s failed electoral reform, the central government made it clear there could be only two or three candidates.

It’s simple arithmetic. As Leung, the former secretary for justice, has candidly explained: “It’s impossible to have four candidates. This will make the chance to win more than half [of the votes] more difficult.”

Critics have denounced the current election system. But at least we are way past the old communist elections in which the winner gets 99.63 per cent or thereabouts of the votes. Pan-democrats and other anti-government groups now control more than a fourth of the votes in the Election Committee that will pick the next chief executive in March.

Leung has suggested candidates who have little chance of winning should reconsider entering the race. But that won’t matter much if the race turns out to be neck and neck – as some polls have suggested – between Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor­ and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah. Beijing reportedly prefers Lam. There is a school of thought that claims the winner needs two-thirds of the votes to be considered to have a legitimate mandate. One way to achieve that is to get rid of Tsang. After all, he has never explicitly said he would join the race.

Carrie Lam, John Tsang ‘cleared to run’ for Hong Kong’s top job

Pan-democrats are already demonising Lam; the next step may be open support for Tsang, who may end up being perceived as the pan-dems’ candidate. When he resigned early last month, he didn’t have Beijing’s blessing. He wrote at the time that he would not fear any challenges “if the people were with him”. Such behaviour could be seen as provocative. That may be why Beijing has held off for so long on clearing his resignation.

There are news reports – including on our front page today – that both Lam and Tsang’s resignations will be approved by the central government as early as today. That would clear both to compete in the race.

So with Tsang now likely to be in the race, lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a declared candidate, may have to go. That’s why reporters have been chasing her to ask whether she would quit.