Hong Kong is expected to hold its Chief Executive elections in March 2017. Carrie Lam is widely seen by political punters as Beijing’s favorite in the race. The former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong is popular with the public as well. She is late into the social media scene and had previously hesitated about Facebooking her political campaigning.
Inevitably, as a frontrunner, Carrie Lam has been subjected to some scrutiny. When Lam resigned as Chief Secretary to run for the Chief Executive, she had to vacate her official residence and give up other additional privileges as an elite civil servant, which include chauffeur-driven cars and official residences located in prestigious addresses like The Peak.
Shortly after stepping down as the Chief Secretary, Lam was spotted taking a cab to her former official residence to get toilet paper. Her actions of taking a cab to obtain toilet paper instead of purchasing from convenience stores immediately became local and international news, critiquing her to be out of touch with working class folks.
In another incident, Lam seemed confused when she used a pre-paid card to enter the underground subway system. She appeared to be unsure of how to pass through the subway gates. Such incidents may work against candidates as they are deemed to be out of touch with the common folks or the working class who travel overwhelmingly on public transportation systems, as privately-owned vehicle is an opulent item in land-scarce Hong Kong. There were other minor incidents covered by the press, including passing red packets to a beggar (begging is illegal in Hong Kong) and having typographical errors on her official campaign website.
John Tsang is a popular candidate. He is often remembered as the territory’s finance secretary who goes on TV during Budget Day with a smiling face and an affable moustached appearance to ask for public feedback and wish-lists for budgetary allocation. He is also savvy with social media and is sometimes regarded as the most popular candidate on social media platforms. His Facebook posts are well-read and contains clues to his political orientation and outlook. Popular polls appear to look positive for Tsang but he does not appear to command the same level of blessings from Beijing as Lam.
Another tough candidate is Regina Ip, who is sometimes nicknamed the iron lady for being the territory’s first Secretary for Security. 66-year-old Ip has positioned herself as a tough-talking no-nonsense pro-establishment candidate. Amongst the candidates, Ip has always revealed publicly her ambition to attain the top leadership position. The Hong Kong people’s reception of Ip has been a mixture of adulation and caution. She left Hong Kong for the United States to study at Stanford University after Tung Chee-hwa’s administration failed to push through Article 23. Ip was also an advocate of Article 23. Ip returned to found a think tank and also joined the Legislative Council elections.
Some stakeholders in Hong Kong and Beijing are determined to see the implementation of Article 23, where security laws are granted to Hong Kong’s authorities to execute. Some argue that secession can be prevented with Article 23 in place. The subject was tackled in the past by Hong Kong’s first Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung who backed the Tung Chee-hwa administration’s unsuccessful attempts to make Article 23 a reality in 2002 to 2003.
Ip is a literature major graduate from the elite Hong Kong University, an institution often considered to be the best in Hong Kong and in Asia with a good global reputation. Her first choice for a career was to join the intellectual circle. Ip then accumulated civil service experience as the Director of Immigration in the 1990s. Her straight-laced talking style captured attention when she picked on Lam’s confusion at using the public subway system and assured the public of her familiarity with the use of the subway.
Ip’s campaign promises are to tackle housing and socioeconomic disparity, two issues that are acknowledged as Hong Kong’s major challenges. Ip is in favor of Beijing’s system of Chief Executive elections where there is a pre-approved list of candidates to choose from. On human rights, she is in favor of anti-discrimination measures for the LGBT community but has not made clear her position on same-gender marriages. Ip is also in favor of women’s rights and freedom from discrimination at work. Overall, Ip’s reputation for dogged persistence is often cast as her greatest asset and strength.
Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, 70 years old, is the fourth major candidate in this race. After declaring his candidacy, he released a Chinese-language publication (a political manifesto of sorts) at Hong Kong Shue Yan University. Woo is in favor of a wider representation of different sectors in Hong Kong. Woo argues that the territory-wide examination system for primary three children should be removed based on public perceptions that the tests are too onerous. Woo advocates releasing lower grade agricultural lands for building residential and commercial estates. This would take some heat off high land prices for Hong Kongers and businesses who wish to have a presence in the city.
Opposition lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung has recently announced his intention to run in the election. He said he would seek to secure 37,790 votes — one per cent of the city’s registered voters — through a “public nomination” mechanism conducted by post-Occupy group Citizens United in Action, before he would canvass for the nominations from the Election committee. A pan-democrat, he is urging his political allies not to vote for any pro-establishment candidates even if they see them as “lesser evils.”
From Beijing’s perspective, qualities like love for the motherland and Hong Kong, leadership ability and trustworthiness are paramount for a Chief Executive candidate.