Why do so many people in Hong Kong love to hate Regina Ip?

Yonden Lhatoo says the city has unfairly shut out of the chief executive election one of our most controversial yet capable politicians and administrators

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 8:47pm

What is it about Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee that people in this city just won’t give her a chance?

Hong Kong’s “Iron Lady” crashed out of the leadership race on Wednesday, and I daresay it was more to do with the prevailing bias against her than any objective assessment of her ability to do the chief executive’s job.

She could not even muster the minimum 150 nominations required to officially qualify as a candidate. There was barely any support for her from the 1,194-member Election Committee that will pick Hong Kong’s next leader by secret ballot – a small circle of kingmakers, dominated by rubber-stamping pro-establishment forces and Beijing loyalists.

Front runner Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Beijing’s anointed one, grabbed most of the entry tickets from the pro-establishment bloc, while underdogs John Tsang Chun-wah and Woo Kwok-hing divvied up the pan-democratic votes to reach the threshold.

Only Ip failed to make the cut after lobbying committee members and others in 137 meetings, 45 media interviews and 14 district visits.

She spent an estimated HK$5 million to HK$6 million on her doomed campaign.

“I failed to get in again because of the limitation of our system,” Ip said. “I have been squeezed out.”

Mobbed by the media during probably one of the worst moments of her life, she was dignified and graceful in defeat. She even kept that new and improved smile going the whole time under a barrage of flashbulbs and shouted questions rubbing it in.

Watch: Regina Ip drops out of the chief executive race

The fact is, Ip has built up a solid support base that unfailingly sweeps her into office every time the city elects a new legislature. Not for nothing was she crowned the “queen of votes”, dominating her constituency in the last election. But beyond that, she remains a polarising figure.

Just look at all the hate online. Her detractors – and they are legion – will not give her a chance, no matter what she says or does.

After ending second run at Hong Kong’s top job, Regina Ip says there aren’t enough nominations to go around

There was a time when this all-encompassing dislike of Ip was understandable, given her abrasive, high-handed style at the height of her career in government. But that was more than a decade ago when, as the security minister, she was trying to bulldoze through national security legislation, a hugely controversial drive that was met with much public distrust and alarm.

Hounded out of office, she took a three-year sabbatical to reflect and reinvent herself. She returned home a chastened and transformed person, willing to admit to and apologise for her past mistakes. Heck, she’s still admitting them now, more than a decade later, because we just won’t let her forget, will we.

She once told me we would have taken it easier on her if she wasn’t a woman. I have to agree.

Watch: Regina Ip talks about her leadership bid

During my last face-to-face chat with Ip, I asked her why someone like Woo, a respected judge but a political pygmy with zero administrative experience next to her, could get an entry ticket to the race while she was denied one. She blamed it politely on a “sheer ideological divide among voters”, citing as an example Woo’s campaign promise to legislate against the sovereign state’s interference in Hong Kong affairs.

Woo’s pledge is the equivalent of a candidate for school captain promising soda in water fountains and an end to exams. Sounds awesome, but it ain’t happening.

How many of Ip’s detractors have actually read her election manifesto with unblinkered eyes? Shutting her out of the chief executive race is Hong Kong’s loss.

Last I checked, bravery, integrity and tenacity were qualities to be admired, not ridiculed or ignored.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post