In the UK, bookmakers are allowed to accept bets on anything, including financial market movements, that come with probabilities the gambling industry can calculate reasonably well. One example is election results. No-one would believe a politicians’ forecast, and even opinion polls can be biased or based on faulty samples. The betting companies’ odds, by contrast, are rooted in cold, hard-headed, unemotional calculation.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club monopoly is allowed to accept bets only on local horse racing and some overseas soccer games. Offering odds on the forthcoming Chief Executive ‘election’ would be fraught with theoretical hazard. Beijing rigs the poll behind the scenes, so China’s leaders could, if they wanted, give the impression that Henry Tang will be the winner while secretly betting huge sums on CY Leung, then install the latter as victor at the last minute and, say, retire to Tahiti on their winnings.
Even if the nation’s senior officials would not stoop as low as the team managers and referees who run mainland soccer games, the HKJC would still have to offer odds on a one-horse race for next Chief Executive. The probabilities must be something like 90% Henry, 7.5% a pro-Beijing figure drafted in at short notice, and 2.5% CY.
CY Leung’s hopes of getting 150 signatures from the 1,200-strong Election Committee, and thus himself on the ballot, do not look too good. The Standard reports that he could have around 120. Given many EC members’ instinctive fear of backing the wrong horse, we can be certain that some who have quietly pledged to nominate him will have flu or an urgent business trip when the time comes. So CY will need nominations from at least some EC members from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of HK and its labour affiliate, the Federation of Trade Unions. But these are solid, loyalist groups; a few FTU members might at a stretch put their working-class conscience before the interests of Beijing’s pet tycoons, but most will follow United Front orders.
If the DAB-FTU bloc nominated CY (or an as yet unknown), it would imply, as the article says, that Beijing has come down against Henry at the last minute. This would require unimaginably dreadful – as in way-too-juicy-to-be-true – public scandal. It would also pull the rug out from under the array of establishment sycophants already openly supporting Henry.
This is why A.N. Other gets a 7.5% probability. The Friends of Donald and other shoe-shiners could hurriedly scuttle to a new entrant on the field and tut-tut about Henry’s problems while saving their own faces. But if the new ‘winner’ were CY, they would be tainted publicly as losers, even hostile ‘outsiders’, compared with the little elite who had sided with the underdog from the start. In short, CY as CE at this stage would disrupt harmony among Hong Kong’s great and good in unimaginable ways – think the URA’s Barry Cheung lording it over Bank of East Asia’s David Li. And that can’t happen. Even 2.5% is overdoing it.