CS spell hard to break in race for chief

Editorial | Mary Ma 16 Jul 2021

The Election Committee will be elected in September. Prior to that, Beijing will unlikely give even the least hint on who will have its blessing to run for the chief executive post next year.

This is despite speculation that both CE Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her immediate predecessor Leung Chun-ying are ready to run once Beijing gives them the green light to jockey for the top office.

Although the CE will be returned by a new 1,500-strong committee, it will be unrealistic to think that anyone without Beijing's blessing would stand a chance - and they would probably be expelled during the nomination stage.

Understandably, it is urgent for potential candidates to promote themselves to Beijing.

As the incumbent CE, Lam surely enjoys advantages over her competitor or competitors, whoever they may be.

Her self-revelation on Sunday that the upcoming policy address will be full of visions for the next five to 10 years was the strongest sign to date that she is determined to win a second term.

It can be expected that Lam will make a grand statement in October.

She made it clear she would not mind if her policy address were denounced as a document full of empty talk or riddled with armchair policies.

It's true she needs not to be concerned about that - because all she needs to do is convince Beijing.

Her sudden shift to a higher gear may be a sign that it can be either way - she is not yet certain or is certain of Beijing's support to be given a second term.

And if former CE Leung had made successive strides, via his social media platform and supporters, to reach out to decision makers, he has gone low-key recently.

Leung's gear change to a low profile may be open to interpretation. Some view it negatively, as a sign of Beijing's displeasure over his public criticism of Lam's housing policy.

That's certainly one side of the coin - but keeping a low profile can also be read differently.

And could the surprise promotion of former security chief John Lee Ka-chiu to chief secretary complicate the election calculation?

As I have said before, it's too soon to say. Yet, throughout the SAR's history, the CS has always featured prominently in the CE race.

After Tung Chee-hwa had to step down due to dubious "leg pains," then-chief secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen took over from him before being elected to a full term in office.

Henry Tang Ying-yen, also a CS, had been poised to take over from Tsang to become CE but was unexpectedly defeated by dark horse Leung after the latter was given the green light to run.

Leung's hope for reelection in 2017 was dashed by another chief secretary - Lam.

The cycle of succession would have likely been broken this time had Matthew Cheung Kin-chung not been removed as CS. He had never been counted as a serious contender for the CE office.

But Lee's promotion has forced everyone to update their battle plans. It raised eyebrows when Lam commented that Lee, though good in security, was not seasoned in other policy areas, including poverty and youth, that are the major policy areas that Beijing wants to redevelop.

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July 2021

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