Candidates for Hong Kong's top job await Beijing's green light

Former finance secretary Antony Leung (above) says Mr John Tsang, who holds the job now, is most capable of uniting Hong Kong. Chief Executive candidates have to be vetted and approved by China.
Former finance secretary Antony Leung (above) says Mr John Tsang, who holds the job now, is most capable of uniting Hong Kong. Chief Executive candidates have to be vetted and approved by China. PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG
Former finance secretary Antony Leung says Mr John Tsang (above), who holds the job now, is most capable of uniting Hong Kong. Chief Executive candidates have to be vetted and approved by China.
Former finance secretary Antony Leung says Mr John Tsang (above), who holds the job now, is most capable of uniting Hong Kong. Chief Executive candidates have to be vetted and approved by China. PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG

Until then, they remain coy about running for Chief Executive post

Finance Secretary John Tsang appeared to have the support of one of his predecessors, Mr Antony Leung, himself seen as a potential candidate for Hong Kong's top job.

Mr Leung, who was finance chief from 2001 until he resigned in 2003, said at a charity event on Monday that Mr Tsang was most capable of "uniting Hong Kong".

Yesterday, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, the city's first Chief Executive, called an unprecedented meeting with more than 100 local advisers to Beijing, to discuss plans for the closely watched race for the top post, which will be held in March.

These included selecting members of the 1,200-strong Election Committee, which will in turn be tasked with picking the city's next leader.

Mr Tung, who stepped down midway through his second term in 2005, is currently the vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top advisory body.

He is said to have canvassed Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders to support Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying's candidacy in 2012.

ANOINTED ONE

Once a candidate - not necessarily C.Y. Leung - receives the blessings, then everyone will vote for him, and the CPPCC can ensure the votes are under control.

PROFESSOR JAMES SUNG, City University political analyst.

However, some analysts said yesterday's meeting could be a sign that Mr Tung is losing confidence in Mr Leung, who is said to be keen on running for a second term.

From the meeting, Mr Tung - and therefore, Beijing - could get an idea of the level of support the more than 200 local CPPCC members have for the candidates, said City University political scientist James Sung. "Once a candidate - not necessarily C. Y. Leung - receives the blessings, then everyone will vote for him, and the CPPCC can ensure the votes are under control," added Professor Sung.

Chief Executive candidates have to be vetted and approved by China. That is why those who want to run for the job are often coy about their intentions until they know they have Beijing's blessings, said Prof Sung. He added that he expects the Chinese government to give the green light to at least two candidates this month.

Observers said that apart from Mr Leung Chun Ying, other possible contenders could be Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and Mr Tsang, who first indicated his interest in the city's top job in July. He said he is willing to take on the job if it can "help me contribute to society", sparking media speculation that he had Beijing's approval.

Mr Xi was seen shaking hands and chatting with Mr Tsang during the Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou last month, further fanning speculation.

"It looks like John Tsang's star is rising," said China expert Willy Lam, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "Apparently, Mr Tung is leading a group of businessmen to Beijing. In this case, there could be some kind of lobbying."

Citing reliable sources, local Chinese media reported that Mr Tsang could resign this month to prepare for the election campaign.

Meanwhile, Mr Leung has avoided questions on whether he will seek re-election since he threatened to sue Apple Daily for a report on Sept 8, which "falsely, viciously and maliciously" accused him of corruption.

Mr Leung is not known to give up easily, said Dr Willy Lam, who expects him to seek a second term, unless Beijing intervenes.

Said Dr Lam: "He was very ambitious when he ran against Henry Tang in 2012. He was up against very unfavourable circumstances. So, there is no reason to think he would give up voluntarily this time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'Candidates for HK's top job await Beijing's green light'. Print Edition | Subscribe