That Chief Executive election race that glimmered briefly for a few days before Christmas recently sparked back into life. There is something rather contrived about the spat between candidates Henry Tang and CY Leung. CY has called for upgrading the hospital authority (chaired by Henry-supporter Anthony Wu) and for a new financial authority (to supplement the existing Monetary one, formerly run by Henry supporter Joseph Yam). In response, Henry has criticized the work of the Urban Renewal Authority (run by CY supporter Barry Cheung).
An excellent choice on Henry’s part for mud-slinging electioneering, I must say: it hits a popular nerve, it isn’t entirely fair and, coming from an ex-Chief Secretary, it’s hypocritical. On the face of it, the URA deserves to be stomped on for its strategy of tearing down old neighbourhoods in league with for-profit developers and replacing them with oversized unaffordable luxury towers. However, although the authority at times seems to have gone about this with undue relish, the whole approach has been 100% directed by government policy, which seems to be to reduce the amount of affordable housing. The Development Bureau rushes to defend its offshoot, as well it might. They will have to report to Henry in a few months, and this is upsetting to them.
What is amusing about this little outbreak of negative campaigning is its setting: a stage-managed process, culminating in a make-believe election in March at which 1,200 mostly obedient make-believe voters will do what Beijing tells them and ritually elect Henry Tang as CE. What is different (and unexpected) about the charade this time is that Beijing still hasn’t made its preference known, so it remains technically possible for CY Leung to get enough nominations to get onto the ballot.
It seems that this pseudo-election is being used as a dry run for 2017, where the whole electorate will – assuming the Central People’s Government keeps its word – be able to vote. What will probably happen is that two candidates broadly acceptable to the Communist Party will get onto the ballot, and we will be allowed to choose between them. Beijing seems to be testing how easily it can guide two competing candidates, how tempted they might be to resort to populism and negative campaigning, and troubleshooting other potential problems with this scarily uncontrollable (well, managed) democracy thing.
Indeed, what are the chances that when universal suffrage with Chinese characteristics comes to Hong Kong in 2017, it will take the form of a ballot offering Henry Tang, hoping for a second term, and CY Leung, drooling at the prospect of his first?
Spot (ha ha) the difference (from recent editions of the SCMP). Top: a vendor at the Canton Trade Fair selling worthless junk made by someone else; bottom: decorative and functional avant-garde art…
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