Chris Yeung: Take your mark!

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Make no mistake. The jockeying for the post of chief executive in 2017 has not yet begun. The game rules of the 2017 race are anything but certain, making it too early to tell who will vie for the top post. That doesn’t mean that hopefuls aren’t testing the waters.

And it hasn’t stopped pundits from trying to decode the deeds and words of some potential contenders they deem anxious  for the 2017 election. A fresh round of the biggest guessing game in town is on.

Reform yawn
The territory-wide massive signature campaign mounted by an unholy alliance of pro-Beijing groups backing the government’s political reform blueprint has caused a minor stir. On May 8, a concern group on public opinion in political reform published their latest rolling poll on the reform blueprint. The results carried few surprises with those backing the government proposals hanging at the 40-something percent level.

Political pundits are apparently more interested in a handful of news stories in the past week relating, directly or even marginally, to the 2017 horse-race.

Choosing champions
Responding to a side question to the poll, 5.5 per cent of respondents want Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to become a candidate in the 2017 chief executive election, putting her on top of a list of prominent politicians and celebrities in the rating. Civic Party’s Audrey Eu Yuet-mee came second (3.6 per cent), followed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (3.1 per cent) and Legislative Council President Tsang Yok-sing sharing third place (3.1 per cent).

Trailing behind were Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee (2.2 per cent), Alan Leong Kah-kit (2.1 per cent), Antony Leung Kam-chung (2 per cent). Also scored 1.6 per cent were former financial secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung.

The top nine were followed by two household names in the entertainment business: Andy Lau (1.3 per cent) and Chow Yun-fat (1.1 per cent).

The findings may be rightly dismissed as unrepresentative in view of the low percentage of support to each of the possible candidates and the question’s whimsical nature. That it was asked in the form of an open question for respondents to name any names they want raised doubts about the weight of the results.

The survey, however, has laid bare a simple truth: prominent names people are familiar with have a natural edge in city-wide “one person, one vote” election.

It is therefore understandable that celebrities such as Andy Lau and Chow, who have positive images, healthy and sensible, have been suggested as possible choices in the electoral game.

But personality is not the most important factor for voters when it comes to the selection of chief executive. A host of factors including the ruling team, their background, track record and policies carry more weight with actual voters.

But seriously, folks
Put plainly, it would be extremely difficult for popular names like Lau and Chow to fight a popular vote battle without the backing of political party. It would be inconceivable one could win the chief executive post with just their famous faces.

Still, a brand of some sort is a requirement for serious aspirant. Anyone whose face is not easily recognised by ordinary people will be a non-starter in a popular vote.

Woo to woo voters?
Accordingly, pundits have good reason to link the latest publicity about tycoon Peter Woo Kwong-ching, due to retire from the chairmanship of the Wharf Holdings later this month, with his renewed enthusiasm for running again.

Woo kept a low-profile in politics after losing the first chief executive election in 1996. He has given no hint of a political comeback since then. Some pundits have speculated the imminent end of his business life could mark the beginning of a new chapter in politics.

Eyebrows were raised when he gave a rare interview to socialite magazine Hong Kong Tatler, sharing images of the man in work and his private hours in sports.

At 68, Woo seems not to be keen to join the chief executive race in 2017 when he turns 70. If there is renewed speculation about his next move, it is because various factions and king-makers in the pro-establishment circle have cast their gaze on potential candidates whom they support or disdain.  For the latter, they aim to frustrate their political aspirations by putting them on the spotlight prematurely.

The renewed rumours about Woo also reflects the depth of unease in business circles about the re-election of Leung, whom they fear is unfriendly to business and inclined towards populist policies. They are keen to have a pro-business chief executive.

Ip Ip ‘ooray!
If Woo seems a reluctant aspirant, Regina Ip is the opposite. The New People Party legislator made no hiding of her aspiration for being the master of the Government House. On Sunday, she announced a 15-month-long study of Hong Kong’s competitiveness by the Savantas Policy Institute, a policy think-tank she founded.

Despite her denial that the study is part of an effort to pave the way for the 2017 election, analysts see the research as the source of ideas and policies for her if she decides to vie for the post in 2017.

In addition to the pooling of ideas and assessment of policy options, it is more important for potential candidates to start hunting for his or her team-mates in the 2017 election and, if successful, in the post-2017 government.

It may sound far-fetched at a time when the passage of the government’s reform blueprint is mired in doubt. Ask C Y and his close aides. They know better than anyone about the predicaments of a late start in election campaign and team-building.

Our HK, our CE
Against that background, the Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think-tank founded by former chief executive could emerge a king-maker-cum-think tank in the next chief executive election by pooling talents and ideas.

It is anybody’s guess about who will run in 2017. The list of keen aspirants, reluctant names, hesitant candidates and also-rans will run long.

With 2017 drawing near, they are aware of the importance of early preparations to raise exposure, build a core team, generate ideas and formulate policy blueprint even before the election rules are in place.

The starting gun may not have discharged, but the jockeying for pole position has begun.