After revealing himself as a cad who would throw the mother of his children aside to get the last seat on a lifeboat, Henry Tang’s chances of being Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive seemed to go from shoo-in to zero in the space of a week. It was Henry’s quasi-contest to lose – a rigged procedure handing the job to him on a plate – and the dumb schmuck managed to lose it. Having been caught arrogantly assuming he was essentially above the law, blithely trying to wave it away and then despicably dumping everything on his wife, he cannot be CE. It’s impossible. Surely.
Yet with just 10 days to go before the nomination period ends, it is equally impossible for Beijing to insert someone else in his place without exploding its own myth that the choice and appointment of our next leader is an ‘election’. The Chinese government took the pretense surprisingly seriously this time, presumably in preparation for the guided but moderately contested process due in 2017. Beijing did not openly or even implicitly express its preference, and its officials even claimed they could live with either Henry or his rival CY Leung.
Those officials also told pro-establishment figures late last year that if Henry failed the public opinion test, he wouldn’t get the job. That didn’t stop a large portion of our tycoon-bureaucrat elite from backing him, so we are now faced with the scarcely imaginable prospect of banker David Li, ex-Monetary Authority boss Joseph Yam and all the rest being forced to make an embarrassing reversal and line up behind a last-minute stand-in. There are ways to spin such a turnaround – Henry could ‘fall ill’ and his fan club pretend to draft Beijing’s new nominee – but the fact is they will look like a bunch of losers and stooges.
And who would be the replacement? Tsang Yok-sing is a top member of the Communist Party’s United Front, and is presumably expressing an interest in the top job to give Mainland officials time to micromanage whatever happens next. A paid-up Red/head teacher running Hong Kong? No. Ex-president of the Legislative Council Rita Fan’s name just won’t go away, thanks to the public popularity she gains from her unwarranted ‘nice old aunt’ image, but she is aging and would be hopelessly out of her depth. Beijing cannot appear to be so desperate.
Former Security Secretary Regina Ip makes no secret of her lust for the position of CE. Not everyone hates her (she got 20% of the HK Island Legco vote in 2008) and she could at least do the job, sort of. If I were Beijing, I would install her rather as they resorted to Donald Tsang to replace Tung Chee-hwa in 2005. Another name banded about is Victor Fung, an able and unobjectionable businessman. We could do worse.
And then there’s CY Leung. According to various conspiracy theories, we are witnessing a struggle between China’s two main factions: Hu Jintao’s old-style doctrinaire, grassroots, party faithful (who back CY) and Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai, elitist, quasi-capitalist ‘princelings’ (who back Henry). Under this scenario, we could even enjoy the overthrow of our current ruling caste. Henry, David Li, Joseph Yam, the property tycoons and top civil servants get dragged out of bed on July 1, lined up against a wall and shot – as CY’s ‘people first’ regime takes over.
This allows Beijing to stick to the original ‘election’ script. But the Election Committee’s business elements would have to be exceptionally obedient to vote for CY. And while a populist move would make Hong Kong patriotic and Communist-loving overnight, it goes against Beijing’s instinctive paranoid preference to cultivate a, hopefully united, band of loyalists in the city and exclude the untrustworthy, colonial-tinged masses. Not least, China’s own forthcoming top man, Vice-President Xi Jinping, is one of the princelings. Still, if it happens I’ll definitely bring my camera on July 1.
Alternatively, assuming we are not seeing a Communist Youth League coup in Kowloon Tong, Beijing could simply order the tycoons and CY to co-exist and tell Henry to lose the ‘election’. Heaven knows what sort of government we would be left with, given the enmity between new and old powerbrokers and whole system’s lack of legitimacy following such a stage-managed outcome. Maybe it would be easier for the puppet-masters just to kick Henry away and drag in Regina/Victor/A.N.Other – and to hell with this pretending that the Harbour People Rule the Harbour. Or we come back to our original impossible scenario: carry on with Henry regardless. When every other option seems impossible, the status quo is that little bit easier to conceive. And as we all know, in the Communist tradition of government, public opinion falls into line with the Party, not the other way round.
Meanwhile, for those who have not yet had the pleasure – RTHK librettist/tenor Steve James’s Henry Tang – the Opera.