Consensus Crumbles, Challengers Consider

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Grumblings and rumblings are becoming a cacophony of complaints, sniping and full-on assaults on the record of the CE as candidates test the water for a run in 2017.

Photo credit: EyePress News

First it went to Tung Chee-hwa (董建華), a prominent shipping businessman. Then the top post of Hong Kong SAR landed on Donald Tsang Yam-kuen (曾蔭權), a veteran civil servant. Tsang handed the torch to Leung Chun-ying (梁振英), a surveyor by profession, whose present term is due to end in 2017. Who’s next? Will Leung be given another five-year term? Or will it go to another civil servant?

That’s the question that has been raised and will be hotly debated in the city as the jockeying for the top post heats up.

Speculation about the next chief executive grew – again – last week after a veteran pro-Beijing figure, Ng Hong-mun (吳康民), made a veiled criticism against the leadership of Leung. Ng said in an interview with now TV there has been no lack of controversies in the past three years.

A natural progression

Importantly, Ng said it would be “more appropriate” for a civil servant to become the next chief executive. He named Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (林鄭月娥) and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah (曾俊華) as good candidates.

Ng’s praise of Lam and Tsang were echoed by Jasper Tsang Yok-sing (曾鈺成), the Legislative Council President. Saying the pair were capable and have a ‘heart for the city’, Tsang said whether they would like to contest the top post would be their own decision. When asked about another former civil servant turned opposition, Regina Ip, he declined to comment.

In a related development, former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung (梁錦松), who has also been tipped as a potential candidate, has become more visible recently. But he has deliberately tried not to be dragged into politically-sensitive issues.

Ng Hong-mun “said it would be ‘more appropriate’ for a civil servant to become the next chief executive.”

He made an exception when in an interview with a small group of media representatives published on August 31, Leung dwelt at length in his talk about education and the importance of “love, mutual understanding and respect.”. When asked about the row over the appointment of University of Hong Kong law professor Johannes Chan Man-mun (陳文敏) as a pro-vice-chancellor, Leung was mildly critical to both the university’s council and the student protesters.

He said it was “baffling” for the governing body to say the appointment needed to be done until after the provost was named, and “wrong” for students to storm a council meeting.

Leung, who turned to Christianity after he resigned from the post of financial secretary in July 2003, was philosophical when asked about his interest in joining the CE race. He said none of his big changes in life happened because of his own decision, adding many opportunities “came from God.” “There are times when you did not get what you want; there are also times when you cannot refuse… I have only said I have no plan to run now.”

In what could be construed as another veiled criticism against the chief executive, Leung said those who have power should learn to be “humble, listening and accommodating.”

Antony’s Leung talk of humility and broad-mindedness has bore resemblance to comments by Professor Lau Siu-kai (劉兆佳), a former Central Policy Unit head and now a vice president of the National Association of Study on Hong Kong and Macau, on the next SAR chief.

Noting Leung Chun-ying has failed to narrow the gap with the mainstream pro-establishment force and the pan-democrats, Lau said Beijing would pick someone who can “unite different forces, in particular the pro-establishment camp” to be next chief executive.


Michael Tien Puk-sun (田北辰), who is more friendly to Leung Chun-ying when compared with his brother James Tien Pei-chun (田北俊), made no bones with his dismay with Leung’s style of leadership. Michael Tien said Leung’s “father-knows-best” has put the pro-government camp in a precarious situation.

The chorus of critical voices against Leung does not seem to be coordinated. There is no sign of an orchestrated campaign badmouthing Leung.

But it is intriguing that uncoordinated voices of dissent against Leung have emerged noticeably following his self-initiated trip to Beijing in July, during which he was met by National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang (張德江).

The chorus of critical voices against Leung does not seem to be coordinated. There is no sign of an orchestrated campaign badmouthing Leung.

The meeting was not reported in the official Chinese media, giving rise to speculation about what that meant.

The secrecy was lifted, at least in part, when delegates of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong reported, after meeting central government officials during a Beijing visit, the central government was non-committal about Leung’s re-election bid.

Beijing’s lack of limits for the loyalists to comment on the next chief executive has inadvertently – or perhaps deliberately – emboldened them to be freer and more explicit in their critique of CY Leung’s reign and open discuss desirable (non-CY) qualities of the next chief executive.

What lies beneath

The surfacing of the CY Leung-bashing noises has exposed the undercurrents in the pro-establishment camp against Leung. Not surprisingly, they include the faction that had backed Henry Tang Ying-yen (唐英年) in the 2012 race comprised of the Liberal Party and active political and business leaders. One significant development is that the tenor of voices from the traditional pro-Beijing camp against Leung has sharpened. Ng Hong-mun and Tsang Yok-sing fall into this category.

While failing to make peace with all factions in the pro-establishment camp, CY Leung is faced with the danger of losing support from his core supporters, dubbed as “Fans of Leung”. Social work activist Ho Hei-wah (何喜華), who was full of hope for Leung in making real improvement in livelihood of the under-privileged people, has become disillusioned. He has said he would not back Leung’s re-election bid. Some close allies of Leung in the 2012 campaign have distanced themselves from him since he took power.

Already faced with the pan-democratic opposition, Leung’s is confronted with a weakened base of fans and a new fleet of critics and opponents from within the pro-establishment camp.

It has become apparent the “non-Leung” faction in the pro-establishment camp is keen to challenge Leung’s expected re-election bid. In view of the uncertainty over the intentions of Antony Leung and Tsang Yok-sing, some have set their eyes on Carrie Lam and John Tsang.

Compromise Candidates

With the wounds caused by the bitter rivalry between the “pro-Leung” camp and “pro-Henry Tang” faction yet to be healed, the two veteran top civil servants are seen as acceptable to all parties.

Importantly, the row over the granting of rights to revamp the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, including the Avenue of Stars, to New World Development, which has given high-profile support to Leung, has stoked fears about government-business collusion.

Both Lam and Tsang may not want the Number 1 job. But they are seen by more people now as a safer bet to help foster unity and harmony and maintain a level playing field in the political and business landscape.