This time next year, just as Hong Kong Free Press celebrates its second anniversary, a new Chief Executive’s term of office will be about to start. From now until then – or actually March – Hong Kong will have to put up with various hopefuls trying to prove their suitability for the job. It will not be a pretty sight.
You know the procedure by now: the Chinese government chooses someone, who then ‘wins’ a make-believe election by a 1,200-strong committee. So the aspiring CEs will be trying primarily to impress Beijing. But they know that the Communist Party leadership prizes stability and fears chaos, so the contenders will be eager to curry favour among the local population to demonstrate their ability to spread peace and harmony throughout the city. Much of the community is suspicious and even hostile towards the Mainland – even more so after the abductions of the booksellers – so this will require a tricky balancing act. One approach would be to focus on issues like livelihood and welfare, and downplay the political relationship with Beijing.
It is hard to believe that the Chinese government will choose the incumbent, Leung Chun-ying, to serve a second term. He is divisive and widely detested. His lack of empathy for Hong Kong’s people and values undermines any popularity he might earn from being marginally more liberal than his predecessors on welfare issues. His relentless kowtowing to the Communist Party – as seen in his obsession with Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative – is so embarrassing that even the obedient loyalists of the DAB distance themselves from him.
Like his obsequiousness to Beijing, CY’s efforts to be popular will be painfully clumsy. He has retreated from some stupider ideas, notably the plan to spend HK$1 billion on local scholarships for Kazakhs, Uzbeks and other ‘Belt and Road’ students. And he is unconvincingly siding with the lefty social-worker grassroots community-activists in blasting the (government-created) Link REIT for doing its job as a for-profit landlord of public housing shopping centres.
CY might even sense a need to reach out to the sizable pro-democracy, mildly localist, Beijing-skeptical young and middle class parts of the community. It sounds like a waste of time, but he could do worse than study supposed rival Financial Secretary John Tsang, who openly supports the Hong Kong side in football games against the mainland, and flaunts his familiarity with local pop culture.
Yes – it is, indeed, hard to believe Beijing will give CY a second term. No less an esteemed commentator than Ching Cheong says so. Common sense says that China’s leaders would be nuts to reappoint someone so openly spiteful to and loathed by Hong Kong.
Except, of course, that the Communist Party itself despises this city, and is hated by it. In the Leninist mind, this could be the ultimate proof that CY is the guy for the job.
Who else is there?
Like his namesake Donald, the aforementioned John Tsang is a civil servant and seasoned administrator. As such, he can implement policy – but can’t devise it. He has spent nine years or so misbalancing budgets and distributing ad-hoc lumps of cash to carefully selected demographic sectors and socio-economic groups, while leaving an atrocious, economy-distorting, land-based fiscal system untouched. But hey, he’s good at hanging out with teens and chatting about kung fu movies. If Xi Jinping were an unflappable, laid-back sort of dude who’s just looking for a safe pair of hands to run Hong Kong, you could see him going for Tsang. But he seems more of a paranoia-military expansionism-factional infighting type.
Most observers believe that Tsang’s colleague Chief Secretary Carrie Lam also aspires to the splendor of Government House. At the same time, she is widely acknowledged to be eagerly awaiting her retirement so she can rejoin her family in their blissful cottage in sunny England. Obviously, one of these statements cannot be true. The look in her eyes suggests she can’t wait to get out. (Like John Tsang, she is not stupid or mentally deranged, and you really have to ask: why the hell would you want this un-doable, failure-guaranteed job?)
A third ex-civil servant with her sights on Hong Kong’s top office is Regina Ip. She is going to be So, So Miserable when she finally realizes that it’s not going to happen. Everyone hates her because she managed the unpopular and doomed Article 23 security law when she was in government back in 2002-03. Analysts sneer at her lame attempts to do policy – tired 70s-style state-directed high-tech blather. While aficionados of decorum and style might forgive her for losing her wacky ‘broomhead’ hair, they are mortified by her pushiness and in-your-face ambition. The woman is so desperate that she has set up a ‘Belt and Road’ foundation/think-tank youth-propaganda thing to prove her worth to Beijing. Sorry, Regina.
Just as we can probably live without having an ex-bureaucrat as Chief Executive, we can surely do better than having another businessman – at least, any who Beijing would appoint. One of the problems here is that the Chinese leadership does not trust 99.9% of the people in Hong Kong, so the choice is limited. Christine Loh, a policy wonk eminently suitable for the position, is barely trusted as deputy minister at the toothless and incapable Environment Bureau. One apparently acceptable name you hear is that of Tsang Yok-sing (also happy to be called ‘Jasper’ again, after years of burying it).
Tsang Yok-sing is a former head teacher, lawmaker and leading figure in the DAB, the Communist Party’s main front in Hong Kong: a veteran of the authentic ‘patriotic’ community who were outcasts in colonial times. Believe it or not, he is quite a nice guy. Intriguingly, he recently boosted his hipness by appearing in a reality TV show with radical activist ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung. Most endearing fact of all: wife found to have Canadian passport, suggesting deep-down typical Hong Kong bourgeois level-headedness beneath that stoic and obedient loyal Communist exterior.
Whether he could do the job is another matter. Most people would see him as an improvement on CY – but they would see anyone as an improvement on CY (well, maybe not Regina).
Ultimately, it depends on the power struggles and other unknowable things going on in Beijing. Assuming CY is not ruled out on factional grounds, it looks like the job is his to lose. From the control-obsessed Communist Party’s point of view, he’s great: willing to use the police, prosecution and anti-corruption agencies as political tools against opponents, and happy to bring universities into line by packing their ruling bodies with loyalists. Not like the earlier wimps. Provided he doesn’t provoke major Occupy-scale protests in the streets at the time Beijing is finalizing its decision, he looks safe. That would be next January-February, if you want to plan ahead.