Can any of Hong Kong’s leadership hopefuls regain trust, and restart political reform?

Raymond Mak weighs up the three candidates in Hong Kong’s leadership race to see if any could serve as the all-important bridge between Beijing and the city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 March, 2017, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 March, 2017, 6:11pm

One of the issues drawing the most attention in the chief executive election race is political reform. All three candidates have promised to mend the fissures in society if elected, and acknowledge that the relaunch of political reform is a contentious issue that they have to address as the city’s future leader.

Favourable conditions are needed for this to happen, but how could the next leader create such conditions?

In hindsight, the major reason for the failure of political reform was the lack of trust among stakeholders in society. Therefore, to relaunch the process, there are two keys to success: act as a bridge between the pro-establishment and pro-democracy camps; and, make proposals that are acceptable to Beijing and most citizens.

Crucial for next Hong Kong leader to have central government’s trust, according to Beijing official

So, who holds those two “keys”? While Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has passed Beijing’s trust test, she has thus far failed to secure support from pan-democratic lawmakers and their electorate. Lam is disliked because the central government’s liaison office and Beijing loyalists back her. If she cannot change perceptions, it is likely that, if elected, she would face the same challenges as current leader Leung Chun-ying.

Carrie Lam, in her own words, on everything from nicknames to why some Hongkongers dislike the mainland

As a retired judge, Woo Kwok-hing is widely perceived to be just and reliable. His promise to implement Article 22 of the Basic Law was applauded by the public and demonstrates his political wisdom and determination in upholding the “one country, two systems” principle. However, his close relationship with the pan-democrats means he has no chance of Beijing’s blessing.

John Tsang Chun-wah, while having strong support from the public, does not appear to have Beijing’s complete trust. Thus, he faces an uphill battle to prove he is the better choice. Strong public support and a capability of mending the rifts in society are Tsang’s best cards, and Beijing should be well aware of that.

John Tsang’s empty words on political reform

If Tsang manages to secure the central government’s trust and support, which I still believe he has a fair chance of doing, he would seem to be the best person to help bring Beijing and the people together to reach a consensus on political reform.

Whoever wins, the next chief executive needs a clear vision for Hong Kong, a solid policy platform and a cross-sector governing team of the highest calibre in order to implement the needed economic and social policies for the city, as well as deliver on his or her election promises. This is the best way to mend the fissures in society, which is critical to creating the conditions needed to relaunch the reform process.

Raymond Mak is a governor of the Path of Democracy