In a place where the phrase ‘so-called referendum’ means ‘by-election’, we should not be too surprised to find that the correct definition of ‘Chief Executive election’ is in fact ‘Chief Executive appointment’. Hong Kong’s two main English-language newspapers are reluctant to make this too clear, however, so visitors, the naïve and the unwary would read them today and come away with the impression that a free vote will be taking place next year to decide the city’s next leader.
The South China Morning Post is at least bold enough to remind us that Beijing officials will at some point in the meantime “express their preferences” and that the poll will involve a “limited franchise” (as we call a ‘rubber stamp’ round here). Anyone who read the last Time Out will already know this, just as they will have been given the distinct impression that the next leader of the Big Lychee will be Chief Secretary Henry Tang. The SCMP quotes a mysterious unnamed “Hong Kong politician familiar with the central government’s thinking” who also puts his money on Tang.
The Standard pushes the whole falsehood that Hong Kong will witness an election and that a race is currently underway among several candidates. This exciting battle, the paper invites readers to believe, is heating up, with former Legislative Council president Rita Fan apparently throwing her hat in the ring. Rita’s words yesterday may be summarized thus:
“Any idiot like CY Leung can come forward with fancy policy ideas. I, on the other hand, don’t have any!”
She has already admitted to being economically illiterate, and she could have added that her last experience anywhere near government was as a member of the Executive Council during the governorship of David Wilson, before our youngest voters were even born. Hongkongers have a soft spot for her because she came across on TV as a long-suffering, kind-hearted kindergarten teacher warning naughty lawmakers to behave during her days as speaker of the legislature, a position that limited her ability to take positions on controversial issues. But the idea that China would give her the top job is frankly laughable, and it is hard to see why she is going through this make-believe. Maybe Beijing is prodding her into it just to give the impression that all is yet to be decided, or perhaps the old biddy really thinks she might have a chance if Henry manages to screw something up on the scale that several of his colleagues in the administration have managed (note that he never gets anything too difficult to run – he’s just Minister of Trees and Culture Hubs).
The SCMP informant’s point is that Beijing will announce the winner of the March quasi-election as early as October in order to quell potential friction among people who would like the job (Tang and Leung both sit on the Executive Council, and the fourth (non-) possibility Regina Ip is an elected legislator. More to the point, most of them have various public figures, especially in the business world, discreetly lined up behind them (tellingly, Rita seems to have relatively few). These hidden backers-in-waiting will be getting nervous if they don’t get a clear signal of who they will have to end up officiallyand openly supporting later on.
Regina is similarly a non-starter. This is a bit of a pity, insofar as not having a less obtuse, slightly more imaginative version of Chief Executive Donald Tsang is a great loss. Sadly, the chances of CY Leung taking control look worse than ever. One of those precocious patriots who made the trek to the motherland as a teenager back in the days when most ambitious young folk aspired to shining the shoes of David Wilson’s predecessors, he is now popularly viewed as suspiciously close to the Communist Party and basically a bit sinister. And he would, quite possibly, be more authoritarian in style. But the property tycoons hate him, so he can’t be all bad.
The simple fact is that nice-but-dim rich-kid Henry, starting in 2002, was made Secretary of Commerce, then Financial Secretary and then Chief Secretary. It was not an accident; the people making the decisions were not putting him through all that just in order to place someone else in the top job next year.
Just in case CY does get in: crowd control barriers in Central are now being equipped with manacles…