Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a Q&A session at the Legislative Council Chamber, in Admiralty on September 8. Despite reports in some quarters that Beijing has ruled her out for a second term, Lam continues to see herself as a viable candidate. Photo: Sam Tsang
Mike Rowse
Mike Rowse

Election Committee has much to consider as race to be Hong Kong’s next chief executive hots up

  • Leung Chun-ying appears to have taken himself out of the running for a return to Hong Kong’s top job, but several hopefuls are still in the race, and the incumbent is fighting on

There are still six months to go before the next chief executive election, but the race is heating up. In view of the fast-changing backdrop, I thought it might be good to do a stocktaking exercise to help track future developments.

Judging from his recent silence, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying has taken himself out of the running. This is wise. It is questionable whether Beijing would have allowed a comeback because that would have called into question the original decision in 2017 to switch horses.
Incumbent Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is still fighting for a second term. Despite reports in some quarters that Beijing has ruled her out, she continues to see herself as a viable candidate.
Either she hasn’t heard the rumours or doesn’t believe them and wants to fight on. Her recent announcement of a significant restructuring of policy bureaus fits into this scenario. Splitting the transport and housing portfolios into separate policy areas was first suggested years ago.

When Hong Kong’s housing development was largely “rail led”, it made sense to push them both together, but it has been obvious for a long time that the job is just too big for any one person. Certainly, the incumbent has struggled.


Hong Kong has until 2049 to fix its housing crisis, but is it possible?

Hong Kong has until 2049 to fix its housing crisis, but is it possible?
The question will be how to coordinate housing with land supply, and of course both have to be coordinated with transport. There’s no point having land suitable for housing development if there is no access to it.

Lack of coordination seems to be at the root of the problem, and creating a new bureau by itself will not solve it. Nobody seems to be taking a holistic view of these three overlapping areas, and until that is addressed the situation is unlikely to improve.

Creating the post of minister for culture is not a new idea, either. Leung proposed the same thing in 2012 as part of a grand ministerial scheme. The pan-democrats offered to support two new bureaus but asked for more time to consider the deputy posts. The compromise was rejected and the whole plan died.

Lam has insisted that floating the proposals now is not an indication of running for a second term. Regardless of whether that disclaimer is genuine, it was still helpful to remind everyone she is not a lame duck.


China’s top legislative body passes sweeping Hong Kong electoral reforms

China’s top legislative body passes sweeping Hong Kong electoral reforms
When I last wrote about this subject in mid-June, I considered Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po to be the only serving senior official worth considering but thought he might not be interested in moving out of his comfort zone. How quickly things change.
Judging by the number of high-profile public appearances he has made in recent weeks and the range of subjects he has discussed, Chan is clearly testing the waters. He reportedly has powerful backers who feel it is time the sun set on the Lam administration.
Out of nowhere, a new horse has joined the race with the appointment of former security secretary John Lee Ka-chiu as chief secretary. Lam reportedly wanted to offload Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and replace him with one of the younger ministers in her cabinet.
Lee was not her choice, so he must have separate backchannels to the powers that be in Beijing. In announcing the appointment, Lam indicated she expected him to focus on security-related matters while she would continue to be in charge of everything else. It is by no means certain that Lee, or those who put him in place, take a similarly restricted view of his portfolio.

Hong Kong No 2 John Lee to lead vetting committee for election candidates

Another name being whispered in the corridors of power is that of former police chief and now security secretary Chris Tang Ping-keung. He is younger than Lee, which might work in his favour. Tang could be a name for the future, but he is a rough diamond at the moment.

His queries about membership of the Hong Kong Journalists Association are legitimate when put in his own name. But his use of expressions such as “ people are asking” and “some people are saying” are eerily reminiscent of the tactics used by a certain orange-topped politician on the other side of the Pacific. Most people I know agree that one Donald Trump in a lifetime is enough.

We shouldn’t entirely write off the prospects of Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. She might have blotted her copybook 20 years ago, but her loyalty to the central government has never wavered.

This week, Ip will speak at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club on whether China has kept its promises to Hong Kong. It is hard to see another name on this list who could be relied on to handle such a hot topic.

I would like to squeeze in one more name – former justice minister Wong Yan-lung. In 2012 I saw him as a possible dark horse, but he returned to the private sector and relative obscurity. He surfaced last week at an event organised by the Youth Development Commission, saying all the right things. Still a youthful 58, he could be viewed by many as a good choice.

The new Election Committee will have a lot to ponder, but I still think we won’t know all the runners until December. Watch this space.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises