GAME ON! The 2017 Chief Executive election

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp


If you think the race for CE hasn’t started – you’re wrong. Commitments are being made and broken as the struggle for the most powerful political job in the city is joined in earnest.

The Great Game is on.

The Chief Executive position is the most powerful in the city and uncertainty reigns over who will hold the position until 2022. Billions of dollars of spending and the heart and soul of Hong Kong are at stake. And the struggle has already begun.


The future is uncertain

Previous CE elections featuring incumbent CEs seeking another term (2002 for Tung Chee-hwa and 2007 for Donald Tsang) had no unexpected results. Beijing knew who it wanted back for a second term and the game was fixed to return their favoured result.

CY Leung’s first term ends next year, but a second term for the incumbent is far from assured. The coming CE election is going to be a genuine contest between several pro-Beijing camp candidates representing the Beijing party apparatchiks,  its loyalists (e.g. DAB and FTU) in HK and Beijing-friendly HK tycoons.

While pan-dems have no hope of getting their own man or woman elected, “the people’s” representatives may be kingmakers in a break between the pro-establishment camp. The role of these voters, numbering approximately 200, would likely remain murky until the candidates are chosen and horse-trading, votes for policy, begins in earnest.

Indeed, the initial overtures have been made. Just yesterday, the pan-dems made overtures to James Tien and the Liberal Party,  suggesting that they could combine forces with the business community to oust CY Leung.


The enemy within

Prior to the 2012 campaign Election Committee (EC) members could be simply divided into pro-Beijing and pan-democracy camps. But the last election gave lie to divisions within the pro-establishment forces, with two pro-Beijing candidates genuinely competing in the election.

In the aftermath, the reign of CY Leung witnessed not only a fierce rivalry between pan-democratic politicians and government, but gaps within pro-Beijing factions also widened.

The coming CE election is going to be a genuine contest between several pro-Beijing camp candidates representing Beijing, its loyalists in HK and Beijing-friendly HK tycoons.


Core versus periphery

One of  the themes of how power has been distributed in China since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power in 1949 is tension between the core (Beijing) and the peripheries. Overly powerful figures far away from Beijing, particularly in prosperous and unruly Guangdong, are distrusted by central authorities fearing the rise of local power factions. Knowing this, locals are always on the watch for moves to displace or downgrade their status via diktat from Beijing.

Last year, the government suddenly announced the retirement of Secretary of Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing (曾德成),  LegCo President Jasper Tsang’s (曾鈺成) younger brother who was sentenced to jail after the 1967 riot. Simon Shen (沈旭暉), a Hong Kong-based IR scholar and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences, CUHK, suggested, in an HKEJ article, that Tsang’s forced retirement adheres to this pattern. He argued that countries with communist political structures are highly aware of the ‘localism’ or separatism sympathies, even among long-time party faithful.

To counter-balance the potential separatism, he said regular substitutions or change of positions targeting long-term loyalists is the solution. In the case of HK, the ‘One Country, Two Systems’, Beijing theoretically cannot freely pick a cadet from elsewhere in China to replace an official in HK. It must relies on the local talent pool only.

Just prior to the CE election, rumours suggested CY Leung may be an underground CCP member and was recruited to serve the special interests of various factions in Beijing. Shen’s argument is that the the political career of the generation of Jasper Tsang-led HK-based loyalists may be in decline if they do not respond to this setback.

A year before the election, it is still too early to determine whether Jasper Tsang will run for CE to take revenge for his younger brother, and protect the loyalist interests of his generation. He has denied any ambitions to the top job, but the path of reluctant recruit is often a successful one to higher office. As possibly Hong Kong’s most popular politician, he cannot be discounted.

The latest news is: Starry Lee, Jasper Tsang’s close aide in DAB, resigns from her ExCo position. Is she going to represent the loyalists to join the CE election (she has not clearly denied, and just said ‘you think too much’)?


Business community blowout

Among the business community, two camps are evident and were in play in 2012. Henry Tang’s (唐英年) support from the local tycoons and leaders of the business community didn’t carry the day against CY Leung’s support from a so-called ‘second class business group’ (二線資本家). This group included many lower profile business figures and new players in the form of state owned enterprises from China. Former HKEJ Editor-in-Chief Joseph Lian (練乙錚) advanced this idea in 2012

Bellwether business people will be closely watched to see where their support will go. Incumbent Financial Secretary John Tsang (曾俊華), LegCo and ExCo member Regina Ip (葉劉淑儀), ExCo member Bernard Chan (陳智思) and Chief Executive of HKMA Norman Chan (陳德霖) are all potential candidates. The Chairman of Shui On Group, Vincent Lo (羅康瑞) (2011 EC member from representatives of CPPCC member subsector, Fourth Sector), and Chairman of Ryoden Development, Herman Hu (胡曉明) (2011 EC member from Employers Federation of Hong Kong subsector, First Sector), have already both announced their support for CY Leung’s re-election.

The previous election saw an EC divided, with CY Leung taking a slim majority of 689 votes. Dissatisfaction with the effect of his rule and personality clashes suggest he could face a serious challenge in the Election Committee if opposition can coalesce around a candidate acceptable to Beijing. The means of selecting the rarefied members of that committee is already under dispute in sub-sectors ranging from insurance to law to accounting and technology (watch this space).