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Representatives of a newly formed establishment-leaning educational alliance announce their members’ candidacy for Election Committee seats on Monday. Photo: Nora Tam

Establishment-leaning Hong Kong education group registers for Election Committee polls, vows to break opposition ‘monopoly’

  • Education Professional Alliance says it will represent different voices in its subsector, but insists opposition supporters welcome to join
  • Elections will only be held in particular subsectors if candidates outnumber seats, but with three days left in nomination period, none meet that threshold

A group of establishment-leaning Hong Kong principals have signed up as candidates for seats on the powerful 1,500-member committee that will pick the city’s leader, vowing to end the opposition’s domination of their subsector and to strengthen national education in schools.

As of Monday afternoon, 598 candidates had signed up or indicated interest in running for seats on the Election Committee. At least 108, or 18 per cent, had nominated Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor when she ran for the job in 2017. Only two backed Lam’s opponent, John Tsang Chun-wah, a former finance chief, who received 160 nominations to Lam’s 579.

The committee race, to be held on September 19, will be the first since Beijing’s drastic shake-up of the city’s electoral system aimed at ensuring only “patriots” hold power. The overhaul expanded the committee by 300 seats, and empowered it to not only pick the chief executive, but also to nominate all lawmakers and even field representatives of its own to the legislature.

Who are the ‘patriotic sector’ voters of Hong Kong’s powerful Election Committee?

An election will only be held for a particular committee subsector if candidates outnumber the seats available. But as of Monday, three days before the nomination period ends, none of the body’s 40 subsectors had enough candidates to meet that threshold.

The 13 members of the newly formed Education Professional Alliance – drawn from organisations such as the pro-establishment Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers (HKFEW) and the pressure group Education Convergence – who signed up on Monday were the only ones to announce their candidacy in the education subsector so far.

Wong Kam-leung, chairman of the HKFEW, told a press conference that the alliance represented different voices in the subsector and would “break the monopolisation” of the Professional Teachers’ Union [PTU] in the field.

The opposition-leaning PTU, which previously announced it would not be fielding any candidates, has found itself in the cross hairs of the authorities. The Education Bureau recently severed all ties with the 95,000-strong union – the largest of its kind – accusing it of inciting pupils and teachers to join the 2019 anti-government protests, an accusation first levelled by Chinese state media and denied by the PTU.
People cast their ballots in the last Election Committee race in 2016, in which the opposition made a strong showing in several subsectors. Photo: Sam Tsang

“Our alliance never opposed pan-democrats participating. Anyone can sign up as long as they are dedicated to education, gather the nominations needed and fulfil the criteria of being a patriot according to the Election Committee’s requirements,” Wong said, responding to questions over the apparent lack of political diversity in the new group.

“It’s a very fair system,” he added.

The 30 seats in the education subsector were once voted on by more than 80,000 individual teachers. But under the new system, the subsector will be merged with higher education – with both sharing the same number of representatives – and the number of voters and elected seats will be slashed.

Election Committee hopefuls vow to tackle Hong Kong’s root problems

Sixteen of the 30 seats will be handed to university vice-chancellors and representatives from sponsoring bodies for local education uncontested. The remaining 14 seats will be selected next month by institutional voters, such as registered schools, if there are enough candidates to compete.

One seat is already promised to Wong Kwan-yu, the president of the HKFEW and a delegate to the Chinese legislature, the National People’s Congress.

Asked about its preferences for the next chief executive, the new alliance said it wanted a candidate who would make education her or his top priority.

“We want to strengthen national education and cultural education, and strengthen the sense of national identity and awareness of social stability,” said Maggie Koong May-kay, a representative of the Association of Hong Kong Kindergarten Education Professional Exchange, who was among those to announce her candidacy for the committee on Monday.

Koong serves as a Shanghai member of the nation’s top political advisory group, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Also among the 13 candidates were Aided Primary School Heads Association honorary chairman Cheung Yung-pong, New Territories School Heads Association chairman Kelvin Yau Siu-hung, former Hong Kong Subsidised Secondary Schools Council chair Halina Poon Suk-han, HKFEW vice-chairwoman Nancy Lam Chui-ling and Education Convergence president Ho Hon-kuen.

No evidence Hong Kong teachers’ union breached security law: top adviser

Both new and familiar faces have emerged in some subsectors. In the legal one, nine seats will be chosen from among the Hong Kong members of the Council of the China Law Society, who will not have to run for election. Members in line for seats include former privacy commissioner Stephen Wong Kai-yi, ex-counsel to the legislature Jimmy Ma Yiu-tim and Professor Lin Feng, a scholar of Chinese law at City University.

A new 110-seat subsector was created in the revamped committee for Hong Kong members of national organisations. Among the high-profile people in that subsector to throw their hats into the ring are: Pansy Ho Chiu-king, daughter of late casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun; Alex Yeung Ching-loong, son of Emperor Group chairman Albert Yeung Sau-shing; and Andrew Fan Chun-wah, son of former Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai.

In the accountancy subsector, Clement Chan Kam-wing, accounting firm BDO’s managing director for assurance, is among 15 people who have indicated their interest in running. Chan was appointed by Hong Kong authorities last month to investigate the finances of Next Digital, the parent company of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, after its owner Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and several top staff were accused of fraud and national security law violations.

Hong Kong leader defends move to cut ties with largest teachers’ union

In 2016, the opposition camp formed a team called “Democrats 300+” and swept every seat in several subsectors, including education, higher education, legal, social welfare, information technology and health services.

This year, no one from the camp had even signed up as a candidate as of Monday morning.

The mood among the opposition has been dampened not only by the changes in voting methods, but also because potential candidates will be vetted by the new Candidate Eligibility Review Committee to ensure they are “patriots”.

In total, about 8,000 voters will elect up to 980 members to the committee on September 19.

The winners – together with 160 members to be hand-picked by designated professional and social groups, as well as 360 ex officio members – will then be tasked with endorsing candidates for the Legislative Council elections slated for December, and picking the chief executive next March.

In the last committee polls, held in November 2016, about 230,000 voters were eligible to pick representatives, whose duties were mainly confined to selecting the city’s leader.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Education group vies for Election Committee seats