Deprived of Voting Rights, What Do Hong Kongers Think of the Chief Executive Race?

Voices from the street. Image from Hong Kong Free Press.

This post was written by Ellie Ng and originally published by Hong Kong Free Press on February 7, 2017. The edited version below is published as part of a partnership agreement.

The election of Hong Kong's top leader, called the chief executive, is set for March 26, 2017. In order to enter the race, potential candidates have to gain 150 nomination votes from the 1,200-member election committee of representatives of different professional sectors.

That same committee will decide the winner of the election. The people of Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, don't get to vote.

Currently, there are four potential candidates who told the press that they would seek to be nominated: Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a lawmaker and former security secretary; Carrie Lam, ex-chief secretary and a key ally of the current chief executive CY Leung; Woo Kwok-hing, a retired judge; and John Tsang, ex-finance chief.

Pro-Beijing election committee members will only give their nominations to the candidate “blessed” by the mainland's central government. According to the four criteria put forward by Wang Guangya, China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director, the future chief executive should 1. love China and love Hong Kong; 2. be trusted by Beijing; 3. be capable of governing; and 4. be supported by the Hong Kong people.

Though the China Liaison Office, which represents Beijing in Hong Kong, told its loyalists that Carrie Lam has the central government's blessing, some doubt if the office really represents what mainland officials think.

Against such a backdrop, ex-finance chief John Tsang took the internet by storm on February 3 with a fundraiser for his campaign to show his popularity and raised over HK$4 million (approximately US$520,000) from nearly 20,000 people in just three days.

But is Tsang really that popular? What does an average Hong Konger – who does not have a vote – think about the “election”? Hong Kong Free press spoke to people on the street to find out what they think.

Mr. Ching, 55, civil engineer

What do you think about the election?

The choice has more or less been made among the Election Committee members, who will be voting bearing in mind the “big picture.” I think they are just putting on a show for us, since some candidates obviously do not stand a chance, like Regina Ip and Woo Kwok-hing.

What do you think about John Tsang’s fundraiser?

I think the fundraiser is meant to demonstrate popular support for Tsang. I don’t think the amount matters to him.

Do you support Tsang?

Yes, because compared to Carrie Lam, I think Tsang will more likely fight for Hong Kongers’ interests when Beijing and Hong Kong have competing interests over major issues. I think Lam will probably bow down to instructions [from Beijing].

Even though I think the leader choice has more or less been made, if popular support for Tsang remains strong, [Beijing] cannot ignore it. Maybe it will change its mind and think, “fine, we’ll let you give [Tsang] a try.” I don’t feel completely hopeless about the election.

Who is your ideal next chief executive? If it could be anyone, not just the four candidates.

John Tsang, because realistically Beijing wouldn’t trust someone who’s more liberal or radical. Members of the Executive Council – including Tsang, Lam and Ip – have seen many confidential documents, and Beijing wouldn’t want an outsider to access them as they hold the key to understanding how public policies were made over the years.

Mr. Yeung, 34, NGO worker

What do you think about the election?

It looks like Beijing is staging a sham election, so that people will be tricked into thinking that John Tsang is elected because of popular support. It will give him legitimacy.

What do you think about John Tsang’s fundraiser?

It is a smart move, since it shows he has public support. But I won’t donate to him, because maybe he’s the “chosen” one.

Though Carrie Lam may look like a strong rival, she seems more stupid than before. She must be very capable since she successfully persuaded developers when amending property-related laws a few years back, so why have there been so many publicity failures since she declared her candidacy? Were they intentional? I’m skeptical, though I could be wrong.

What issues do you care about the most?

Poverty and the environment. While Tsang may be able to make some progress on environmental issues, I don’t think he cares much about livelihood issues – he has a finance background, after all. Given his track record, I don’t expect him to do much in areas like improving labour rights and ending the MPF offsetting mechanism.

Who is your ideal next chief executive?

I can’t think of anyone.

Mr. Chan, 22, medical sector

What do you think about the election?

It is about choosing puppets, because no matter who takes office, they will obey Beijing.

Carrie Lam is obviously too cunning and Regina Ip too pro-Beijing. John Tsang is just like Leung Chun-ying before he was elected [to chief executive]: he appears to be on Hong Kongers’ side, but you don’t know what he will become once elected.

Woo Kwok-hing does not seem to be pro-Beijing, but he supports the Small House Policy, so I don’t support him.

What do you think about John Tsang’s fundraiser?

I didn’t know about the fundraiser. But in any case, I won’t give him money – he has a lot already, being a senior government official for so long.

Who is your ideal next chief executive?


Ms. Kwok, 60s, retiree

What do you think about the election?

I’m pessimistic about it, because no matter who becomes the next chief executive, they will obey the central government. They won’t answer Hong Konger’s demands such as improving livelihoods.

I’ve been waiting for universal suffrage for many years. Ever since the 1997 handover [of Hong Kong from the UK back to China], I’ve been waiting.

What do you think about John Tsang’s fundraiser?

He is free to do that, but I think his chances are bleak. I guess it depends on how the public perceives his fundraiser – I do want to see Hong Kong enjoy democracy and have its own voice.

I will donate to his fundraising drive.

Who is your ideal next chief executive?

People have jokingly suggested actor Andy Lau. I think he may not be a bad choice actually. But frankly, as an average Hong Konger, I feel that only the rich have voting rights and the rest can only be docile subjects of the state.

Mr. Kwan, 28, logistics sector

What do you think about the election?

It feels like many things have already been decided internally, because most TV news coverage is about Carrie Lam’s campaign. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else much on TV. Even if there are reports on the other candidates, they are mostly negative or unimportant.

What do you think about John Tsang’s fundraiser?

I don’t have a take on this, but I won’t give him money because I don’t agree with his platform.

What issues do you care about the most?

Housing and things that matter to me, but mainly housing.

Who is your ideal next chief executive?

Anson Chan, the former chief secretary in both the British colonial government of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government under the Chinese sovereignty.

Ms. Lau, 22, student

What do you think about the election?

I hope the next chief executive will be less out of touch with society and less of a lapdog of the central government. Like Carrie Lam is obviously too pro-Beijing. And Regina Ip – thankfully she won’t be able to get enough nominations.

What do you think about John Tsang’s fundraiser?

He must have a lot of supporters to have raised so much money. I hope he will make good use of the money; only use the donations if there is really such a need, rather than spend it on promoting himself.

What issues do you care about the most?

Housing, including public housing. Even if you make HK$30,000 a month, it will still take you 20 to 30 years to pay off the mortgages. So I hope the next leader will be able to ease our burden in this regard.

Who is your ideal next chief executive?

John Tsang seems okay so far, because he seems quite fair.

Or that former Legislative Council president… Jasper Tsang. I quite like him, because even though he is pro-establishment, he seems relatively rational. Also, I watched the TV show about him traveling with “Long Hair” [Leung Kwok-hung]… Tsang didn’t refuse to listen to someone just because that person is not on the same side with him.

Mr. Hung, 30, banking industry

What do you think about the election?

This election is more competitive than the previous ones, because there are many strong candidates.

What do you think about John Tsang’s fundraiser?

I think other candidates will follow suit. I will donate to him as a way of showing my support for him.

I support him because his platform and public policies he implemented in the past are more appealing to Hong Kongers. Also both the pro-establishment and pro-democracy camps have confidence in him – the support he gets is less one-sided.

What issues do you care about the most?

Building trust in society, first and foremost. It takes precedence over economic and other issues. I think Tsang is probably capable of achieving this goal.

Who is your ideal next chief executive?

Other than actor Andy Lau, John Tsang is probably the best.

Ms. Law, 40s, educational sector

What do you think about the election?

I’m just an observer since I don’t have a vote. I guess there’s some competition in this election, but the outcome will still be influenced by the Chinese government.

What do you think about John Tsang’s fundraiser?

I don’t think his fundraiser can really reflect wide public support. I won’t donate to him, because he’s not the candidate that I support. But even if he was, I probably wouldn’t donate. I don’t support any candidate at the moment.

What issues do you care about the most?

Housing, retirement and health care. Health care is actually very important, but so far none of the candidates focus on it.

Who is your ideal next chief executive?

I’m not pro-democracy or pro-government, so I don’t have a preference.


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