Hong Kong chief executive candidate Carrie Lam gets enough votes on paper to win election

But popular underdog John Tsang is still hoping to turn the tables through Election Committee members switching support in the secret ballot

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 10:42am

Front runner Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor looks assured of winning Hong Kong’s leadership election – on paper – having secured about 750 ballots from the 1,194-member committee tasked to vote for the city’s next chief executive on Sunday.

Lam’s expected victory, however, still depends on how many voters switch support to her popular arch-rival, John Tsang Chun-wah, in the secret ballot. The former financial secretary was not mentioned by name, but the meaning was clear when outgoing chief executive Leung Chun-ying warned on Saturday that Hong Kong would lose its high degree of autonomy if his successor lacked Beijing’s full trust.

With Lam, seen as Beijing’s preferred candidate, trailing Tsang in the popularity stakes, her critics have warned of a governance crisis if she is elected.

The former chief secretary received a further boost on Saturday from voters in the Election Committee’s financial services subsector, whose 18 members – including two who earlier nominated Tsang – pledged their full support in Sunday’s vote.

Watch: The chief executive candidates in their own words

Late on Saturday, Lam looked set to secure some 750 votes, counting the 580 people who had initially backed her and her later additional support from Beijing loyalists.

But Tsang and his supporters are hoping that the votes he needs will come from Lam’s backers switching their ballots in secret to turn the tables on her.

With most of the 326 pan-democrats on his side, Tsang still needs a sizeable share of votes from Lam’s bloc to pass the 601-vote threshold to get elected.

“Apart from the 300 or so ballots from the pan-democratic camp, Tsang could get additional support from business sectors, pushing his total to about 400 votes,” Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, the city’s sole delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, told Cable TV.

Watch: The highs and lows of the chief executive campaign

The outgoing chief executive weighed in a day after Tsang held a rally attended by thousands, warning the public against focusing solely on candidates’ mass popularity.

“If the central government does not trust the chief executive, the place he or she is to run can hardly enjoy a high degree of autonomy,” Leung said on the sidelines of the Boao Forum in Hainan.

The chief executive’s mandate was not solely derived from public opinion, but determined by whether that person had Beijing’s trust as well, he argued.

Leung also criticised the opposition camp for backing Tsang this time, saying their past tactic was “not to support the candidate backed and later on appointed by the central government”.

Veteran Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun slammed Leung’s “seriously misleading insinuation” that Tsang would not be appointed by Beijing, should he win.

Lam, upon winning, would be expected to immediately outline concrete measures on how to build trust with both opposition politicians and Hongkongers at large, according to pro-establishment politicians.

Watch: How will the chief executive election end?

Tsang continues to lead Lam by 30 percentage points in the popularity stakes, according to the latest poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme.

Neither Lam nor Tsang held any public event on Saturday. Tsang told university students who interviewed him that he was still confident of winning the election, but he would not specify how many votes he was expecting.

Lam, on the other hand, put up a brief statement on her Facebook page. “Our election campaign is near the end. I have heard and learned so much over the last two months, making me more confident to connect with you to realise our common vision and create an even better Hong Kong,” she wrote.

Woo Kwok-hing, the true underdog in the race, whose pan-democratic nominators are now shying away from him, spent his last day on the campaign trail visiting Central.

Hundreds of Hongkongers took to the streets on Saturday to protest against what they called Beijing’s “meddling” in the election. Police are preparing for protests and rallies by at least seven groups from the opposition and pro-Beijing camps this weekend.