Pan-democrats pledge more than 290 votes for John Tsang in Hong Kong leadership race

But with only days to go, analysts did not expect the move would alter results

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 11:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 2:27am

Pan-democratic members of the committee that will pick Hong Kong’s next leader gave popular underdog John Tsang Chun-wah a strong boost on Monday by promising him more than 290 ballots.

But analysts did not expect the move would help turn the tide for the former finance minister with less than a week to go before the chief executive election.

The commitment by D300+, a grouping of more than 320 pan-democrats in the 1,194-strong Election Committee, came a day after the three candidates fighting for the top job – Tsang, his arch-rival Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and former judge Woo Kwok-hing – faced off in a feisty debate in front of voters who will decide their fate this Sunday.

A spokesman for D300+, lawmaker Charles Mok, said: “Some 98 per cent of us have decided on the position. Public polls clearly show that people support John Tsang.”

The group said it expected more than 290 votes for Tsang, while some members from the legal subsector would hold their decision for a later date.

Meanwhile moderate pro-establishment politician and Liberal Party honorary chairwoman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee also declared her backing for Tsang on Monday.

The Democratic Party, which holds 30 votes on the committee, is the second pan-democratic group after the Civic Party camp to throw its weight behind Tsang.

“All seven of our lawmakers will vote for Tsang and we will also recommend our members on the Election Committee to vote for him,” Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said.

“Tsang is the only candidate, in the eyes of the Democrats, who can unite Hongkongers.”

While Tsang leads popularity polls, former chief secretary Lam, who is seen as Beijing’s preferred choice, has already secured far more support from the Election Committee, which is dominated by pro-establishment forces.

Pro-establishment no-shows at Hong Kong CE race debate caused Lam to feel the heat

Veteran Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun made a last-ditch appeal on Monday to Beijing’s top officials to change their minds on whom to back.

“[The central government] has hoped to prove to the world that the ‘one country, two systems’ model is successful, as the city celebrates the 20th anniversary of the handover on July 1,” he said.

“The election result will tell not only the international community, but also Hongkongers and Taiwanese whether the model is a success or a failure.”

This marks the first time pan-democrats will vote for a pro-establishment candidate in a chief executive election, as the opposition camp had fielded its own candidates in previous polls.

Veteran Democrat Dr Yeung Sum said his party was backing Tsang to give Hongkongers hope.

“We have courageously made this move and we hope pro-establishment voters also have the courage to do it,” he said.

But analysts said it remained highly unlikely that Beijing would change its mind about Tsang with the election just a few days away.

“It takes time to spread the message. The pro-establishment voters would not be convinced [of the change in Beijing’s stance] unless a strong message is directly delivered by some highly authoritative figures [from the central government],” veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said.

“I just don’t see how it would work technically at such short notice.”