The opinion polls following the Chief Executive candidates’ debate last night show: CY Leung 36%; Henry Tang 21%; Albert Ho 14%; None of this rabble 20%; Don’t know 9%. This brings CY’s lead over Henry well within the 20-point range that landlord Allan Zeman judges to be necessary to qualify Henry for appointment. Those of us with a more demanding definition of credibility may consider 36% a bit of a stretch – and that is presumably the pro-Henry camp’s hope in this bitter struggle: drag CY’s ratings down so he becomes as unthinkable as CE as their own candidate.
Henry announced at the debate that he had gone to the Independent Commission Against Corruption to make an official whine about CY’s accusation that he was lying when he said CY wanted to tear-gas Article 23 demonstrators in 2003. It seems the ICAC has become a sort of notary public willing to accept sworn statements on any subject from politicians who have been, or wish to appear to have been, slighted.
Henry’s breach of the rule of confidentiality – even if he is in fact innocent of the offense because he is making up the whole tear-gas story – has done him more harm than good. He made himself look better last night on the occasions he pronounced his fulsome support for universal suffrage. It is late in the day and of course, like his protestations about the public interest, totally unconvincing – especially when billionaire supporters joined in the fervent applause. But it highlighted CY’s almost painful reluctance to show any enthusiasm for what hardcore Communist loyalists dismiss as ‘Western-style democracy’.
If the pro-Henry camp want to make the most of an anyone-but-CY-(even-if-not-Henry) strategy, and can’t produce halfway decent smears, the way to go must surely be to highlight CY Leung as culturally alien to Hongkongers. Obviously they have to do it without appearing less than proud as Chinese, but it is perfectly acceptable for the great and good in the Big Lychee to go on and on about how much they cherish freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly and how much they adore common law, and juries and judges in wigs. All these things get Beijing’s stamp of approval on this side of the border courtesy of the Basic Law, even though serious patriots consider them necessary foreign and colonial evils at best, and certainly can’t bring themselves to celebrate them. It is one way the tycoons can drive a wedge between CY and the masses.
CY could fight back more forcefully against apparent smears – but he doesn’t. Perhaps he is hoping that by turning the other cheek and being polite he will please Beijing officials who are shocked and dismayed by the strife within the Hong Kong establishment and have called for a bit more peace, love and understanding. But his reticence isn’t helping him in the polls. If Beijing has abandoned Henry, and doesn’t want the embarrassment of holding a hasty and heavily rigged second campaign, it would help to give the remaining option a discreet boost. Maybe the Liaison Office would like to orchestrate a heavy pro-CY turnout at Hong Kong University’s ‘civil referendum’ on March 23. A 51% share of the vote would do the trick.
In all the excitement, poor old current Chief Executive Donald Tsang seems to have disappeared. Maybe he is keeping his head down and hoping we will soon forget his own humiliation at the hands of public opinion and the media over his tycoons’ yachts and Shenzhen apartment scandals. Lest he slip from our minds completely, I can’t resist this: an SCMP Harry cartoon, rejected by the prissy editors but now appearing in the Foreign Correspondents Club’s magazine…