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Hong Kong's Pro-Beijing Chief Executive Is Leaving. But There Are Plenty More Where He Came From

Many Hongkongers believe that Carrie Lam and Regina Ip, potential candidates for upcoming Chief Executive election, are current city's leader CY Leung's substitutions. Viral image on Facebook and Twitter via Kris Cheng.

Many Hongkongers believe that Carrie Lam and Regina Ip, potential candidates for upcoming Chief Executive election, are de facto carbon copies of current city leader CY Leung. Viral image on Facebook and Twitter via Kris Cheng.

Hong Kong's Pro-Beijing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced December 9 that he would not seek re-election to take care of his family. The news came two days ahead of elections to the 1,200-member Chief Executive Election Committee, which will determine the city’s next top leader on March 26, 2017.

At a surprise press conference, Leung stressed that his decision not to stand again was purely personal:

It was my own decision. As a husband, as a father, I have a responsibility to take care of my family…My daughter only has one father, my wife only has one husband.

However most news commentators believed that this decision came from Beijing, not from Leung, who had clearly hinted at his ambition to seek re-election as recently as last month in an interview with Xinhua News Agency.

Many also believed that his iron-handed bid to remove two virulently pro-independent lawmakers from the legislature was an attempt to win Beijing’s backing to stand.

While it is inevitable that the next Chief Executive, whoever it is, will be from the pro-establishment, people still hope that the city's top leader can stick to the “Once Country Two Systems” motto under the city's constitution that governs the relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland. But people are losing their faith under CY Leung's administration in the past few years.

Anyone but CY?

Not only ordinary Hong Kong people are frustrated, Beijing has a headache too because of Leung's inability to negotiate with different interest groups, including those from within the pro-establishment clan.

In the past few months, “ABC – Anyone but CY” has become a political slogan among dissenters within the pro-establishment clan. As political news commentator Lau Sai Leung pointed out on the online investigative journalism platform the Initium:

ABC 陣營除了地產商外,也加入了建制派政黨,陣營決定提早終結梁振英的政治生命:曾俊華明示自己有意參選,大法官胡國興以反梁姿態宣布去馬,而中央摸底亦發現,在 ABC 因素干擾下,挺梁的危機是梁根本不夠票當選,中央必須出手終止建制分裂影響特首選舉的局面,而唯一方法就是換馬。

Members of the ABC clan include property developers and some pro-establishment political parties. The clan wants to end CY Leung’s political career earlier [than Beijing planned]: John Tsang [Hong Kong’s financial secretary] has expressed his intention to run for the election, retired judge Woo Kwok HIng has even endorsed ABC as his CE election campaign agenda. The central government, upon consulting with various parties found out that under the impact of ABC, Leung might lack the votes to get reelected. Beijing has to end the splintering of the pro-establishment clan and the only way is to change its candidate.

Lau further explained that CY Leung’s failure is not personal, but something inherent in Hong Kong's undemocratic political system:

梁的失敗,其實與前特首曾蔭權最後兩年的失敗有着驚人地相同的背景,就是當特首民望低迷,失去政治能量時,「西環治港」(指中聯辦介入香港政治)乘虛而入,而結果是令特首出現結構性低民望局面。[…] 香港人對特首的期望,是希望他能以本地利益為先,代表香港這一制,而非中央的委派代理人。

Leung’s failure is similar to the last two years of previous Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s failure – when the chief executive’s popularity goes down and he loses his political momentum, the China Liaison Office steps in [and the popularity goes even lower]. Their lack of popularity is structural.[…] Hong Kong people expect a Chief Executive who can prioritize local interests and uphold Hong Kong’s system rather than a Beijing-appointed agent.

Thus, although CY Leung will step down, the next Chief Executive will still be caught in the power structure in lack of people's mandate. Endorsed by the China Liaison office and backed by Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa, lawmaker and former security secretary Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is one figure who is likely to join the race. Carrie Lam, the Chief Secretary, who once claimed that she would retire from government, also said she would reconsider entering the contest.

Carrie Lam has been a key ally of CY Leung, and has assisted him in his implementation of many unpopular policies on the island over the past four years. Regina Ip meanwhile, is a controversial figure thanks to her role in pushing for tough national security legislation back in 2003. Both are therefore considered as CY Leung’s surrogates. The image at the top of this article, featuring Yeungs face photoshopped onto the two women, neatly sums up this sentiment.

Some also started calling Regina Ip by the initials R.IP, leading to the political slogan ‘Hong Kong People Don’t Want to RIP’.

CY Leung's power plays

Current affairs commentator Leung Man Tao also reminded Hong Kong people that although CY Leung would not be the Chief Executive, the next Chief Executive is likely to continue to rule in his style, which is characterized by swapping around the elite and fostering political struggles:

這整套人事變化的要點就是換血,它不是設法吸納民間潛在反對力量,更不是要加速原有建制力量的新陳代謝,卻是要以一脈除了忠於自己之外就樣樣都缺的新血去徹底代替本來的建制同盟。

Major change in appointment of officials and political position is “blood transfer” [elite substitution]. The strategy neither attempts to absorb elites from the civil society to prevent them from turning oppositional, nor speeds up elite circulation from inside the pro-establishment. Rather it changes old blood for loyal blood to build an alliance that can be completely controlled.

「梁振英路線」的第二大特點就不必多說了,路人皆知,那便是沿襲了大陸新近維穩政治特色的鬥爭為綱,無中生有,小事化大,直至社會撕裂,達到危害國家安全的地步。利用種種外緣條件的變化,內外人鬼,一樁又一樁的案件,一個又一個的危機,然後就可以替自己樹立英勇忠義的形象,藉大義之名博取政治地位,甚至乎維穩成本,這原是內地部份地方官員的伎倆,不料近年卻也隱隱出現在香港了。[…]「DQ」議員數目從辱華反中的梁游二人增加到根本和港獨無關的四個本土派上,只是最新的例子而已。既然這一招能夠挾全國民意和政治上的根本底線來逐步壓毀非建制勢力,同時鎮懾所有建制派中蠢蠢欲動的對手,誰能擔保梁振英之後不會有人再用?而這招屢見奇效的手法又要香港和整個中國的民間為它付出多少彼此誤會、懷疑和仇視的代價呢?

The second character of Leung’s ruling style is obvious. It follows the recent stability control principle of mainland China, magnifying small conflicts into national security threats and tearing society apart. By taking reference of political transformation from other regions and political incidents, it self-directs a series of political crises to justify a crackdown so as to make heroes and accumulate political capital. These kinds of political tactics are frequently used by mainland Chinese officials but it has landed in Hong Kong in recent years. […] The disqualification of law makers Leung Chung Hang and Yau Wai Ching over their anti-China oath and the extension of such political prosecutions to four other localist lawmakers are the most recent examples. Such tactics make use of public opinion from mainland China to crackdown on oppositional parties and threatens the dissents from within the pro-establishment. Who can guarantee such tactics will not be used again in the future? Such power tactic have already torn society apart, resulting in antagonistic relations between the people from Hong Kong and mainland China.

The 1,200-member chief executive election committee was elected on December 11. It's an open secret that Beijing controls the majority votes. In addition to the 300 candidates nominated by a number of pro-Beijing functional constituents who had won without any competition, about 250 pro-Beijing members automatically become ex-officio members of the committee because of their position in the Legislative council, China National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and etc..

Against all odds, the pan-democrats still managed to win over 340 seats and became a critical minority in the election committee. As each candidate running for the Chief Executive has to gain 150 nomination from the committee, the pan-democrats can nominate two candidates. Their votes would also determine if the next Chief Executive would have a high popularity.

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