Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Carrie Lam, the presumed next leader of Hong Kong, is no clone of divisive Leung Chun-ying

CommentInsight & Opinion
Gary Cheung says the former chief secretary just needs to bring back her inclusive leadership style that in the past has helped to defuse, or at least set out to defuse, tension in society


The support of Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, and his sons for Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor could be the last nail in the coffin for her rival John Tsang Chun-wah’s campaign to be chief executive.

For weeks, there had been speculation that Li is a supporter of Tsang’s and that he and his sons may cast their vote for him in the secret ballot on Sunday to select Hong Kong’s next leader. People in favour of the former financial secretary had hoped that support from the Li family could encourage more pro-establishment electors to vote for the popular underdog as well.

That hope has now been dashed.

The Post has learned that National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang ( 張德江 ) last month successfully persuaded the Li family to vote for Lam, who is seen as Beijing’s preferred candidate.

This is a timely reminder that realpolitik reigns in the chief executive poll.

Some Tsang supporters believe President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) reticence on the matter so far may indicate Lam is just Zhang’s choice. But an understanding of Chinese politics suggests that no major decision like choosing Hong Kong’s leader could be made by anybody except Xi, who is now the most powerful Communist Party leader since Mao Zedong (毛澤東).

Nevertheless, while Beijing’s all-out effort to support Lam makes clear that she is the “anointed” candidate, Hongkongers should not suppose that their views carry no weight in the eyes of Beijing. Since the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress in March last year, Beijing has been monitoring public opinion in Hong Kong on likely candidates to be the next chief executive. Noting the opposition to Leung Chun-ying, mainland officials tasked with gathering intelligence were particularly interested in how Hongkongers viewed Tsang and Lam.

Leung’s announcement that he would not seek re-election is a testament to Beijing’s conciliatory approach towards Hong Kong. Hongkongers’ overwhelming opposition to Leung and the reluctance of a substantial number of pro-establishment figures to back him for a second term were factors that contributed to Beijing’s decision to look for an alternative.

The central government’s preference for Lam stems from its desire for a chief executive who has the capability and commitment to tackle thorny issues and, to a lesser extent, someone relatively acceptable to Hongkongers. As Beijing expects the next chief executive to have the ability to handle the complicated situation in Hong Kong in the next few years, it has reservations about Tsang’s laid-back leadership style and his tendency to avoid controversial issues.

Despite Lam’s nickname “CY 2.0”, I am reasonably optimistic that she would make a better chief executive than Leung in terms of bridging social divides – if she could restore her inclusive leadership style and problem-solving skills evident before the failed electoral reform in 2015.

In July 2007, Lam, then the secretary for development, took the bold move to join a debate with activists at a public forum at Queen’s Pier to persuade the angry crowd to disperse and allow the work to demolish the pier to start. Her presence at that critical moment helped calm the crowds and defuse the tension.

Further to her credit, Lam liaised with middlemen, like University of Hong Kong academic Joseph Chan Cho-wai and former president of the University of Hong Kong students’ union Gloria Chang Wan-ki, to set up dialogue with student leaders at the forefront of the Occupy Central protests in 2014.

At the televised dialogue with student leaders on October 21, Lam told them the government would submit a report to the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office to reflect public sentiment since the protests began on September 28. The government would also consider setting up a multi-party platform for talks on constitutional development beyond 2017, she said. But the talks eventually failed to reap rewards because the gap between the two sides was just too wide to be bridged.

One of Lam’s urgent tasks after landing the top job – if she is selected, as expected – will be to set herself apart from Leung by demonstrating a more inclusive governing style.

In an interview with online media last Thursday, Lam told the programme host and former legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing that she was interested in the model of the eight-party coalition that Lau spearheaded in 2001 to push for policies that enjoy support from across the political aisle. The coalition successfully forced the government of the day to agree to measures such as a waiver of property rates and quarantine of residents in a block in Amoy Gardens in Kowloon Bay, at the height of the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003.

I hope Lam means what she says and shows more flexibility in dealing with the pan-democrats after she becomes chief executive.

This is my last column for the Post, where I have worked for nearly 17 years. As someone who has been observing Hong Kong politics for more than two decades, it pains me to witness the vicious cycle precipitated by Beijing’s growing assertiveness on Hong Kong affairs and the resultant backlashes by Hongkongers in recent years.

I believe the persistent expression of views through peaceful means is more forceful and effective in pushing change than hurling bricks in the streets. Deliberate challenges to Beijing’s bottom line, like advocating Hong Kong independence and using abusive language during any oath-taking ceremony, only do a disservice to the fight for democracy.

Yet, as I told some Beijing officials and mainland experts on Hong Kong, Beijing badly needs to create room for moderates in Hong Kong to ensure the sustainability of the “one country, two systems” framework and break the vicious cycle.

Gary Cheung is the Post’s political editor

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Six ways a coalition would be a winning combination for Hong Kong

CommentInsight & Opinion
Keith Hui explains how an inclusive administration would give both opposition parties and voters a real voice and stake in making the government work


A coalition government would increase the space for political compromise, in the sense that the chief executive would have plenty of bargaining chips (policy bureau posts) to negotiate with sensible political parties to engage in policymaking for long-term stability and prosperity. Illustration: Craig StephensHong Kong’s chief executive should consider upgrading the “principal officials accountability system” – introduced by Tung Chee-hwa in 2002 to appoint illustrious worthies alongside administrative officers to take up policy secretary posts – to an inclusive “coalition government”.

Recruiting more lawmakers ­affiliated with the major political parties, including the Democratic Party, to join such a coalition cabinet would offer a chance to solve the present political conundrum.

Coalition governments are common in Europe; many countries there have had a proportional representation mechanism for decades. For example, the current German government, named as the third “grand coalition” since the second world war, is composed of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the Social Democrat SPD, thus securing a dominating majority (504 of 598 seats) in the 18th Bundestag.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a regional conference of her Christian Democratic Union party in Heidelberg on November 28. She leads the third “grand coalition” government in Germany since the second world war. Photo: EPA

There would be at least six advantages from having Hong Kong lawmakers, from both functional and geographical constituencies, and district councillors appointed to the position of chief secretary and more than half the ministerial posts (including deputy and assistant ranks) inside the 13 policy bureaus.

It would mean more politicians like Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai, Transport and Housing Secretary Anthony Cheung Bing-leung; and Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Undersecretary Ronald Chan Ngok-pang inside the government.

The first advantage is that the chief executive would have more flexibility to negotiate with all those who faithfully support the “one country two systems” principle and recognise China’s unquestionable sovereignty over Hong Kong, so as to command a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council.

The recent oath-taking saga has revealed the Democratic Party’s consistent position in staying firmly away from the independence movement advocated by localists. The Democrats, in fact, had an excellent track record under the leadership of the late Szeto Wah for their patriotism as well as willingness to compromise with the government on many fronts. Moderates such as Fred Li Wah-ming and Sin Chung-kai would be ideal candidates to join a coalition government (after nominally resigning from the party) to represent the Democrats.

Fred Li would be ideal for a coalition government. Photo: Edmund SoThe more radical section of the party may disagree with such a move. However, unless they want to remain an opposition party forever, being assimilated into the coalition government is the only way to realise their goals regarding, say, social welfare and labour protection. In other words, only if the Democratic Party is willing to join a coalition government can it turn itself into a genuine political party.

This also applies to parties such as Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee’s New People’s Party, the Liberal Party and the various groups within the functional constituencies. This is actually the second advantage of a coalition government, in that it provides a formal channel for parties to attain governing power under certain conditions, thus fulfilling their ambition to become policymakers.

Also, as these politicians have the chance to analyse issues from both sides, they would tend to be practical rather than radical, realistic rather than idealistic and pragmatic rather than hypocritical.

The third advantage would be evoking the general public’s sense of belonging, security, achievement and closeness to the government, given that a certain number of politicians elected by the public would now be working as policymakers to initiate concrete action to improve their livelihoods.

Furthermore, if this happened generation after generation, voters would tend to distance themselves from radicals who could paralyse the legislature. Any sensible voter would always prefer those who can actually take care of their interests over those who merely provide lip service.

The fourth merit is that there would be no need to amend the Basic Law. The chief executive would continue to have all the necessary discretion, subject to Beijing’s approval, to appoint people to fill various posts, at certain ranks, while deciding how long they should serve. Professionals and civil servants could still be appointed to take up posts as, say, secretary for justice, security, financial services and the civil service. These non-politicians would counterbalance the influence of their political peers, when necessary, through budgeting or voicing realistic concerns.

Moreover, in a case where a secretary committed a serious mistake, immediate resignation would still be an option to help relieve pressure on the government.

The fifth advantage, and the most important one, will be increasing the space for political compromise, in the sense that the chief executive would have plenty of bargaining chips (policy bureau posts) to negotiate with sensible political parties to engage in policy implementation for long-term stability and prosperity. This could alleviate confrontations between the establishment and opposition parties. This is also how coalition governments work in many countries.

In the wake of the independence movement, the chief executive needs to spend more time improving mainland-Hong Kong relations. The chief secretary should therefore shoulder more responsibility to oversee internal affairs, from housing policy to legislation on Article 23. Appointing a popularly elected person to take up this position and lead the coalition government could open more gateways for cooperation among reasonable political groups for a consensus. This is the sixth advantage, so that political pressure is not overly concentrated on the chief executive.

Without a breakthrough, Hong Kong might have to rely on selling souvenirs to make a living soon.

Keith K C Hui is a Hong Kong-based commentator

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Arrow’s theorem and the Pan-Democratic vote for establishment candidates

Populist political sentiment pitches principles against strategy – but it is a false and contrived dichotomy because the ‘principles’ are in fact merely a strategy adopted in previous Chief Executive elections

Discussions over whether the pan-democrats should nominate and vote for establishment candidates in the Chief Executive elections have been intense.

Last week an overwhelming number of them nominated John Tsang and Woo Kwok-Hing. Subsequently the pan-democrats decided to cast all their votes in favour of the candidate with the highest public poll standing. This is a major break with their past as it backs away from populist democracy and represents a significant step towards liberal democracy.

Ever since the Enlightenment embraced the idea that all men are politically equal as the foundation of political life, there have been these two views of democracy centred on ideas about liberty.

Liberal democracy is a political arrangement designed to protect individual liberties. It sees government as the primary threat to individual liberties because of its monopoly over the use of coercive power, and politics as a matter of conflict and resolution.

Liberal democrats are very concerned about the oppression of minority interests by an elected majority. They want the power of government limited through constitutional constraints, a free press, and the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers.

Importantly, they also want to limit the powers of government through free, open and competitive elections with independent political parties – the purpose of which is to preserve the vitality of individual liberties and pluralistic diversity in society, rather than with electing a ‘good’ official that embodies the ‘general will’. For the liberal democrat, if the electorate elects a ‘bad’ one there is always the next election.

Populist democracy, on the other hand, is a political arrangement for realising what the ‘people’ want. The fundamental notion goes back to the French philosopher Rousseau’s famous ‘general will’ as a social contract of the incorporated people.

Unlike other philosophers of his era, Rousseau felt the advance of civilization and the formation of property rights had corrupted people and destroyed the equality that existed among men when they lived as ‘noble savages’.

He sought a radical reconstitution of society through mass political participation to restore this equality.

Rousseau believed a government elected by universal suffrage embodies the ‘general will’ and has a mandate to rule that has moral standing and is precious because it is the expression of the collective will of the incorporated people. Its decisions must be implemented, and citizens must all obey its laws.

Populist democratic politics is obsessed with implementing the ‘general will’ of the people to end injustice, but is almost silent on how to prevent power from corrupting once it has been captured. The corruption of power is the primary concern of liberal democratic politics, hence, Lord Acton’s famous dictum, ‘power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

Minority interests are not a concern either of the popular democrat because if each citizen votes only in the common interest, and not for diverse personal and private interest, then by implication genuine minority interests are incorporated within the ‘general will’.

Put this way, it is possible to see how populist democracies can turn into tyrannies.

The late Professor Kenneth Arrow of Stanford University, Nobel laureate in economic sciences, dealt a devastating blow to the ‘general will’ concept through his research into social choice theory. Arrow proved it is impossible to get a community-wide consistent ranking of alternative choices even when every individual makes consistent choices.

The implication of Arrow’s result is that the concept of the ‘general will’ is an empty one. If the ‘general will’ cannot be made coherent, then what is left of Rousseau’s idea is merely a work of consummate rhetorical skill, a prolonged sleight of hand in which the most questionable concept is carefully hidden behind magnificent flourishes of prose.

Only liberal democracy survives the Arrow test as a coherent theory of democracy because it does not require election outcomes to embody the ‘general will’ with moral standing, it only needs elections to be genuinely competitive.

Politics in a liberal democracy does not rule out forming coalitions with strange bedfellows. Indeed, if it advances the cause of preserving liberty and protecting pluralistic diversity, it is both necessary and desirable. And if such coalitions of convenience turn out to be misguided, it is poor strategy not moral ineptitude.

The decision of the pan-democratic coalition to nominate and vote for establishment candidates to enhance competition in the Chief Executive elections has been criticised by radical populist legislators as strategising and betrays the principles pan-democrats has always stood for.

This populist political sentiment pitches principles against strategy, but it is a false and contrived dichotomy because the ‘principles’ are in fact merely a strategy adopted in previous Chief Executive elections when the pan-democrats had much fewer votes in the Election Committee. As the situation changes, so must the strategy. And if the new strategy fails to achieve its goal then there is always redemption at the next election.

Richard Wong is the Philip Wong Kennedy Wong Professor in Political Economy at the University of Hong Kong

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In Beijing’s view, winning over the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people is not a priority

CommentInsight & Opinion
Gary Cheung says its blatant support for Carrie Lam and Beijing loyalists’ attacks on her opponents are destroying the chance to reset relations between the central government and Hong Kong people, especially the young, post Occupy

With barely three weeks to go before 1,194 members of the Election Committee choose the next chief executive on March 26, it is almost a foregone conclusion that former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will land the top job.

Over the past several weeks, Beijing has gone all out to help her win. Pro-Beijing newspapers have endorsed her and are extensively covering her campaign. Last month, no less than Zhang Dejiang (張德江), the National People’s Congress chairman and the state leader who oversees local affairs, made it clear to Beijing loyalists that the Communist Party backs Lam. And in the run-up to the nomination period, which ended last week, officials from Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong were known to have phoned some Election Committee members to “remind” them to nominate Lam.

Given her competence and can-do spirit, I have never doubted Lam’s ability to win the chief executive race through her own efforts. Beijing is doing her a disservice with its lobbying, as the perception that she is the “anointed’ candidate can only hurt her popularity. Lam admitted as much in an interview with the Post last week.

Beijing has squandered a golden opportunity to mend its rift with Hongkongers. When the unpopular Leung Chun-ying announced he would not seek a second term as chief executive, many people who had expected Beijing to prop up a hardline leader in Hong Kong were pleasantly surprised. The news even created some goodwill towards the central government.

But Beijing considers the chief executive race to be a battle over jurisdiction of the city and wants zero risk in the jockeying for the top job. No surprises will be tolerated on March 26 – even if it means hurting its preferred candidate’s standing with the people. At his meetings last month with some Hong Kong politicians, Wang Guangya ( 王光亞 ), director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said it was normal for candidates’ popularity to fluctuate. In other words, Beijing wants to ensure Lam’s victory, even at the cost of undermining her popularity.

Beijing has been struggling to find the recipe for winning the hearts and minds of young people in Hong Kong since the Occupy Central protests. But its visible hand in the chief executive election is set to further alienate the young and educated Hongkongers who form the majority of the support base for John Tsang Chun-wah, the underdog in the leadership race with the most mass appeal. In a survey commissioned by the Post early last month, a majority of respondents aged 18-44 backed the former financial secretary.

People gather outside government headquarters in Tamar last September to mark the second anniversary of the Occupy Central movement. Beijing has been struggling to find the recipe for winning the hearts and minds of young people in Hong Kong since the protests. Photo: Sam Tsang

Worse, some Beijing loyalists who peddle the rumour that the central government does not trust Tsang are escalating their campaign against him by linking him and his supporters to “external political forces”. Commentaries in pro-Beijing newspapers also queried whether Tsang really “loves China” and “loves Hong Kong”, as 80 per cent of his nominators come from the pan-democratic camp, or what those newspapers call the “opposition camp”.

This comes a mere seven months after Wang pinned hopes on pan-democrats becoming a “constructive force” in Hong Kong. The Beijing loyalists are thus offsetting the goodwill Wang and other pragmatic mainland officials were nurturing.

Former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee made a good point after she crashed out of the chief executive race last week. Asked if Beijing had interfered in the city’s leadership race, she said she hoped the central government would allow Hong Kong people to practise “two systems”.

Spot on, Regina.

Gary Cheung is the Post’s political editor

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Pan-democrats must rally behind Hong Kong people’s choice for leader, John Tsang

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Albert Cheng believes the former financial secretary – by far the most popular chief executive contender – is the only one who has a chance of stopping Beijing’s choice, Carrie Lam, winning the election in March

Chief executive contender John Tsang Chun-wah has so far raised more than HK$4.5 million for his campaign from over 20,000 donors on a crowdfunding platform. The public support has been overwhelming; Tsang would win hands down if this were a one-person, one-vote election.

Given his popularity, it should be a piece of cake for Tsang to secure the 37,790 nominations needed (about 1 per cent of eligible voters) to enter the race in a public voting campaign engineered by Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting and billed as a “civil referendum” for the chief executive race. Tai hopes to convince the 326 pan-democrats in the Election Committee – the actual body that will pick Hong Kong’s next leader – to nominate a candidate backed by the people.

As of today, the 326 pan-democrats in the 1,194-member committee has yet to agree on a plan of action. The chances of the people’s-choice candidate receiving the necessary 150 nominations from the pan-democratic camp in the Election Committee are slim.

Radical legislator “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung is trailing in second place behind Tsang in the unofficial nomination exercise, but it’s unlikely the pan-democrats would nominate him, given the lukewarm public reception of his candidacy.

The democrats should field at least one candidate from within their ranks who meets their requirements, so their standard bearer can present their policies during campaign debates, and highlight the inadequacies of the pro-establishment candidates.

There is zero chance a genuine pan-democrat will win this small-circle election. The best the pan-democrats can hope for is to exploit the fact that Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is little more than a Version 2.0 of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and focus on one outcome, which is to get the “lesser evil”, John Tsang, elected. According to reports this week, Zhang Dejiang (張德江), the National People’s Congress chairman who is also the state leader overseeing Hong Kong and Macau affairs, met selected pro-Beijing Election Committee members in Shenzhen last Sunday. He reportedly said that Lam was the choice for China’s centre of power, the Politburo.

Tsang is the most viable candidate to stop Lam, who will, after all, have to secure 601 votes in a secret ballot. It remains to be seen how many in the pro-establishment camp will cast a conscience vote in defiance of Beijing’s will.

The pan-democrats’ only sensible option now is to nominate Tsang and vote for him. This does not mean a surrender on the part of the democrats, but rather, it means making the most of their 326 votes. Any surplus votes could be used to nominate another candidate, to make the election as competitive as possible. But they should ensure Tsang is able to enter the Election Committee’s final round of voting. The democrats may consider Long Hair for the second nomination.

This is a win-win strategy that balances ideals and realities. It gives the pan-democrats a chance to eliminate Lam, while acting according to the public will. They must not repeat the mistake of allowing vested interests in the pro-establishment camp to manipulate the election. One bad move could result in a tragic farce, and Hong Kong people would have to suffer another five years of despair, frustration and indignation.

Carrie Lam prepares to enter a hall for an election campaign event last week. The pan-democrats must seize the chance to eliminate Lam from the race. One wrong move could mean Hong Kong people would have to suffer another five years of despair and frustration. Photo: Reuters

The 326 pan-democrats represent a large section of Hong Kong people. Many have pinned high hopes on them. Their votes must fully reflect the public will in this critical post-Leung election. They will have to pay a huge price for their actions in subsequent Legislative Council elections if they insist on defying the majority view of the people.

Some pan-democrats have confessed that Long Hair’s decision to run is causing them a painful struggle. The long-standing core value of a fair and just election is to follow the will of the majority and I am sure Leung Kwok-hung believes that, too.

So he should consider taking a step back to facilitate the nomination of Tsang and – perhaps – also former judge Woo Kwok-hing, in order to mount an allied battle against Lam.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator