By Emily Lau
Editor’s Note: An outspoken and popular politician, the writer represents Hong Kong’s Democratic Party.
HONG KONG – On March 25, the 1,200 members of the chief executive election committee will vote to choose the person to succeed Donald Tsang as the chief executive (CE) of Hong Kong. Yet it is an open secret that the choice will be made by the central government in Beijing, not by the election committee.
Regardless, the process turned out to be a lot more eventful and problematic than anticipated. Previously, the results of such elections were known in advance, as with the selections of C.H. Tung and then Tsang.
This time, the central government allowed two pro-Beijing candidates to compete and with devastating consequences. One reason for this exceptional arrangement was the upcoming 18th Communist Party Congress and an impending leadership change in Beijing.
For many months, two Communist Party factions had engaged in a behind-the scenes power struggle and intensive jockeying for positions. The two factions are: the Princelings and the Shanghai gang led by former president Jiang Zemin, and the Communist Youth League gang led by the president, Hu Jintao.
Amid the power struggle, it was that said a compromise had been reached to allow each side to field a candidate, with an understanding that Henry Tang, the former chief secretary for administration and a candidate of the Princeling gang, would most likely be given the job. After all, he has been groomed by the authorities for two decades.
But the Communist Youth League gang also squeezed in its candidate, C.Y. Leung, a former leader of the Executive Council. Some commentators said the central government allowed two pro-Beijing candidates to compete as a trial run for the 2017 CE election which Beijing has promised will be by universal suffrage.
Rivalry between the Tang and Leung camps reflects the power struggle in the Communist Party. But even the Beijing leadership did not foresee that the fight between the two candidates would become so nasty and acrimonious.
Revelations of scandals relating to Tang, including extra-marital affairs, illegitimate offspring and illegal structures, and his inept way of handling the crisis caused dismay and consternation. As for Leung, there were revelations of possible conflict-of-interest in a government design competition 10 years ago and a recent dinner meeting between his campaign team and people alleged to have triad connections.
The outgoing CE, Tsang, also was exposed as having received benefits from Hong Kong and mainland business tycoons. This sparked a huge row about conflict-of-interest and collusion with the business community. Such a relationship often has been alluded to, but Tsang provided evidence of conduct unbecoming of a senior SAR official.
The revelations rocked the community. People are horrified to see the CE and two former top officials riddled with scandals, casting doubt on their integrity and credibility. Now Tsang is under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Leung is being investigated by a select committee of the Legislative Council. Tang and his wife are being investigated by the Building Authority. These scandals made international headlines and are deeply embarrassing for all concerned. On a positive note, they demonstrate how rotten and corrupt the electoral system is.
Despite such revelations, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Wang Guang said in Beijing that both leading candidates are acceptable to Beijing, but criticized the election campaign, saying it was no longer a fight between gentlemen. Such remarks are laughable because everyone knows the small-circle election is nothing but a farce.
Wang’s comments also blatantly try to interfere with the election because there is a third candidate, Albert Ho, chairman of the Democratic Party and nominated by the pro-democracy camp. For months, Beijing has tried to pretend that the election is a Hong Kong affair, but Wang’s remarks show that they no longer bother to lie.
Some Hong Kong people suspect that huge machinery has been deployed to collect sensitive and damaging information about political and business personalities. Some even say that officers from the mainland security bureau are involved.
There is a growing concern that Hong Kong is degenerating into a police state, rampant with espionage. Definitely the mainland authorities have sent many messengers to collect information and feedback from Hong Kong. One of them asked me what impact the CE election would have on the Legislative Council elections in September. I said that most Hong Kong people resent not having a vote in the small-circle election and many do not like Tang or Leung, so if either one is chosen, he will become a target in the Legco campaign. Their supporters may pay a high price on the Legco polling day.
Alarm grows that the new CE may use unscrupulous and ruthless means to settle accounts with his enemies, including the pro-democracy camp, but particularly those in the business community who crossed him. There is muttering in the business community that some big companies may withdraw their investments if a certain candidate is selected, but commentators call this an empty threat. Most big companies have invested on the mainland and work hand-in-glove with officials there. They will not withdraw from Hong Kong or the mainland.
The fight between the pro-Beijing candidates is one of two factions in the Communist Party and between the tycoons who prospered under British colonial rule and those who have not yet reaped full benefits, including smaller real-estate developers and local Communist supporters.
I hope that the bloodletting and mudslinging serves as a wakeup call to all concerned that Hong Kong cannot survive and prosper unless we abandon such a corrupt and undemocratic electoral system. Like the people in Taiwan, we are ready for democracy and capable of electing our government by universal and equal suffrage. The current election episode has been too painful and humiliating and must not be repeated under any circumstances.