Debate silence speaks volumes

Editorial | 21 Mar 2017

The next chief executive will be elected on Sunday, and Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet- ngor remains the most likely to win in the Election Committee's secret vote.

The question is how many votes she can get?

She has increased her nominations to 580 after the 579 she handed in initially sounded vulgar in Cantonese.

So, will the former chief secretary be able to raise that to 700, or even 800, on Sunday?

The Election Committee comprises 1,194 members: 868 of them pro- establishment, and 326 pan-democrats.

If Lam wins by a large number - say 800 - it would mean the establishment is united behind her, and this would be a significant boost for her governance credibility, and a tremendous blow to her main rival, John Tsang Chun-wah.

However, if she gets less than 700, her victory won't be outright and would bode ill for governance.

Can Lam get the amount of votes desired? What happened in the debate two days ago was intriguing.

It was the last one before the election, and was held specifically for committee members to grill the three candidates: Lam, former financial secretary Tsang, and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing. Only Lam - the hot favorite - emerged battered.

Predictably, Tsang and Woo went on the offensive against her. Not predicted were the tough questions hurled her way.

That should not have been the case, since the panel is largely stacked with Lam backers, whereas a crude count showed 90 percent of the questions came from her pan-democratic foes.

The questions were submitted in advance and drawn randomly. Each side theoretically had the same fair chance.

The organizers said 507 committee members attended. Although there was no official breakdown, more than 200 pan-dems turned up. That's two thirds of those in attendance. That meant only a quarter of government supporters were present.

Of 189 questions, 21 were drawn, and only two came from Lam backers, including pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat, who targeted Tsang with a tough question.

The rest were aimed at Lam.

The phenomenon could be revealing in some respects.

One, three quarters of pro- establishment voters chose to disappear; and two, those who showed up decided to clam up.

It was, indeed, strange because it's embarrassing for Lam. Nobody would have expected a scenario like what happened to unfold were her supporters truly committed to backing her.

Why did it happen? Perhaps Lam's supporters were confident she would win anyway, and therefore decided to skip the event.

But it could also be a silent protest, reminding us of talk prior to the nomination stage that some commitee members - resenting being told to nominate Lam - may turn their backs on Lam when it comes time for the secret balloting this Sunday.

So while the chances for Lam to win by a wide margin remain high, an undercurrent nevertheless exists.

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