Why Beijing would prefer a clear favourite in Hong Kong’s chief executive election

Tik Chi-Yuen says in their quest to control the leadership race, the central authorities hope to see unevenly matched pro-establishment candidates nominated, so that a winner emerges with a credible margin of victory

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 5:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 4:19pm

The central government has a long-term plan for Hong Kong. Recently, however, Leung Chun-ying’s decision not to seek re-election, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s apparent initial hesitation and John Tsang Chun-wah seemingly jumping the gun suggest that perhaps Beijing isn’t in full control.

Nonetheless, Beijing does its best to control events, not least because it’s the chief executive election. The person elected must be acceptable to central leaders, so Beijing’s policies can be realised.

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The election is really a matter for the pro-establishment parties. Pan-democrats may be able to make a political gesture to damage the legitimacy of the election, and seek to embarrass the central government, but there is little space for them to be a kingmaker.

Recently, one member of the pro-establishment camp called for genuine competition within the camp in the election. But such a contest would only make the political situation in Hong Kong more unstable. We do not need a situation where no candidate gains half the total vote, as this would be a very bad start for the new government and cause difficulties in policymaking and implementation. Hence, the central government has been exerting itself to ensure the election goes according to its wishes.

For Beijing, the ideal result is one where its anointed one gains a high percentage of the votes, certainly no fewer than the 689 votes received by Leung in the last election.

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In this election, neither legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee nor retired judge Woo Kwok-hing seem to be the blessed one. They will need to work very hard to pass the entry hurdle of 150 votes, just to get nominated.

Tsang, whose resignation the central government took weeks to approve, does not appear to be the blessed one, either. Instead, he may be Beijing’s contingency plan.

In game of musical chairs, someone has to go

With Lam and Tsang now cleared to run, it seems the central government has spoken. How else can Beijing control the result? One way is to ensure that only those from the pro-establishment camp are nominated, and that the candidates are not evenly matched, so to avoid a split in the vote. With Tsang and Lam both contesting the election, Beijing would have to persuade Tsang’s supporters to switch allegiance, or force him to withdraw.

If Tsang does not stand, both Ip and Woo may pass the nomination hurdle, though they will not win. In that case, it would make the election look good.

Nominations for the election start in mid-February. The Hong Kong public must accept that this is the reality, whether they like it or not, under the closed-circle election.

Tik Chi-Yuen is chairperson of the Third Side political party