Three-way fight in Hong Kong leadership race

From left: Mr Tsang, Mr Woo and Mrs Lam.
From left: Mr Tsang, Mr Woo and Mrs Lam.PHOTOS: REUTERS
From far left: Mr Tsang, Mr Woo and Mrs Lam.
Mrs Regina IpPHOTO: REUTERS

Beijing favourite is up against popular candidates backed by pro-democracy camp

The race for Hong Kong's chief executive is set to be a three-way fight, with Beijing's favourite pitted against two popular figures supported by the pro-democracy camp.

Whoever wins the election on March 26 will need to balance the demands of Beijing and growing calls for democracy in Hong Kong, as seen by violent street protests and direct challenges to Beijing's authority by localist lawmakers in the Legislative Council.

Many residents fear creeping interference by China in Hong Kong's legal affairs and freedom of speech and the new leader will need to restore faith in the "one country, two systems" formula, which promises extensive autonomy and freedoms.

The election, in which ordinary Hong Kongers do not participate, will be the first time that two of the city's former top officials are fighting for the top post. A third former official dropped out of the race after failing to secure the minimum 150 nominations required to qualify.

Whoever wins the election on March 26 will need to balance the demands of Beijing and growing calls for democracy in Hong Kong, as seen by violent street protests and direct challenges to Beijing's authority by localist lawmakers in the Legislative Council.

  • Who's in and who's out of the running

  • Aspirants need a minimum of 150 nominations from the 1,194-member Election Committee to qualify for the March 26 race, and at least 601 votes to win.

    WHO'S IN

    John Tsang, 65, former financial secretary
    Number of nominations: 165

    Woo Kwok Hing, 70, former judge
    Number of nominations: 180

    Carrie Lam, 59, former chief secretary
    Number of nominations: 580

    WHO'S OUT Regina Ip, 66, lawmaker and former security chief

INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE

I lagged behind because I am an independent contender. Hence, I cannot proceed with my campaign.

MRS REGINA IP, who bowed out of the race yesterday. She did not disclose the number of nominations she received.

Former security chief Regina Ip announced that the nominations she received were "far behind what was needed", putting an end to her election campaign.

The next leader will be chosen by a 1,194-member Election Committee, which is made up of mostly pro-Beijing property tycoons and lawmakers as well as representatives of professional bodies and trade associations. The city's next leader will need at least 601 votes to win.

To qualify, candidates must secure at least 150 nominations from committee members, who will choose the new leader via a secret ballot, meaning the candidate with the highest number of nominations before the vote is not necessarily guaranteed victory.

In the lead is Beijing-preferred candidate Carrie Lam, 59, with 580 nominations, while former financial secretary John Tsang, 65, who leads in popularity polls, had 165 nominations. Retired judge Woo Kwok Hing, 70, regarded as a moderate candidate with no political affiliations, garnered 180 nominations.

Mr Tsang, known as "Uncle Pringles" for his resemblance to the crisps' brand icon, is largely backed by pro-democracy groups and his soft approach to governance is seen as more appealing to Hong Kongers. But he has also been inconsistent in his views on Beijing's framework for political reform.

The election will be the first since the 79-day Occupy protests that pushed for a "one man, one vote" system to pick the chief executive, a role with a five-year term. The 2014 street protests failed to push the government into agreeing to democratic reforms. But the demand for change remains strong, especially among the youth.

"I hear clear and loud the people want the society to be unified again. People want to restore social harmony, so Hong Kong can move on with the many issues we need to tackle," Mrs Lam, the former civil service chief, told reporters on Monday.

Mrs Lam, who would become Hong Kong's first female leader, said she would not rush into "extremely controversial" issues like democratic reforms.

 

Given this year's highly competitive election, it was necessary for Beijing to declare its preference for a particular candidate to ensure that at least one candidate would secure enough votes to win, Professor Lau Siu Kai, vice-chairman of the Beijing-backed Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, told The Straits Times. "Beijing feels that Carrie Lam is more capable and more trustworthy, but that does not mean that John Tsang or Regina Ip are not good. Beijing has to make a choice," added Prof Lau.

With the pro-democracy camp holding 326 votes, more than a quarter of the votes in the Election Committee, there may be unexpected results in a secret balloting system, added Prof Lau.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'Three-way fight in Hong Kong leadership race'. Print Edition | Subscribe