Tuesday, December 1, 2015   

'King fishers' abound in CE race

Mary Ma

Monday, December 16, 2013

The next chief executive election won't be held for another four years, but various names are already being floated as potential candidates.

For the first time, former commerce and economic development minister Frederick Ma Si-hang has publicly said his old friend and former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung would stand a chance to win if he runs in 2017.

Ma showered Leung with praise, saying his friend isn't only capable but also has the heart to serve Hong Kong. (This sounded eerily reminiscent of what last year's failed candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen said of himself).

Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing tried to play it Ma's remarks, quoting Leung as saying he doesn't intend to run in 2017.


But it's still too early to say this for certain. After all, hadn't Leung Chun- ying reiterated many times in the past that he wouldn't seek the top post?

In politics, if one week is too long, anything can happen if the timeline is four years.

Antony Leung isn't the only name being bandied about. There are others, including Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and Executive Council members Bernard Chanwut Chan and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.

Even Tsang is still counted as a dark horse, so it appears the jockeying for the inside track for the top job has begun.

The biggest difference between the past and 2017 is that while the chief executive was previously chosen by the Election Committee, whose votes were predictable, the 2017 Big Kahuna will be elected by universal suffrage.

If there are going to be two to four candidates, the voters can make a choice. If they don't like the incumbent, they may pick another.

In political circles, Lam is always viewed as a likely candidate. But her current role as CY Leung's chief lieutenant puts her in an awkward position. Last year, she denied she had any ambition. When she was recently asked the same question, she just burst out laughing.

If Lam's chances were hampered in the past by the perception only had limited roots in Hong Kong - since she didn't own any home and her family lived in Britain - it would no longer be a concern since her husband and eldest son have returned to the SAR.

Meanwhile, Tsang calls himself a "king fisher" rather than "king maker" while ruling himself out of the 2017 race. But it sounds more like word play as "fisher" and "maker" could be synonymous.

Perhaps what's intriguing is Tsang's excuse for not attending any of the four upcoming dinners that Lam plans to host with lawmakers to exchange views on political reform. Tsang said he isn't going because - as Legco president - he should remain neutral.

But viewed from another perspective, if Tsang is indeed considering running, it wouldn't bode well for him to attend the event of which Lam - a potential competitor - is the hostess.

It's clear the game rules have changed with the imminent launch of universal suffrage. Public sentiment still counts in Beijing's calculations.

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