Chief Executive Election

New Year’s Eve at the end of this month marks the mid-point of the five-year term to which chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was elected in March 2017. Even the stoutest political heart must surely blanche at the prospect of another two and a half years of the present imbroglio.

Although the exact timing of Lam’s departure remains uncertain, it is not too early for some speculation about the identity of the next chief executive and how candidates for the position can be identified. Normal succession practice would be to look first at the next tier down of senior officials, namely the secretaries for administration, finance and justice. In our present circumstances this is not very helpful as only one of them – financial secretary Paul Chan Mo-po – has any credibility left. His speech at the InvestHK annual reception last week managed to be both realistic and positive. But even he would suffer from close association with the current administration.

Casting the net a little wider brings in all the members of the present executive council. This, too, is surely a dead end. At least three of them – Bernard Charnwut Chan, Laura Cha Shih May-lung and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee – have been mentioned in despatches and have the intellectual capacity to take on the challenge. But these three and indeed the rest are tarred with the brush of having failed to steer the good ship Hong Kong away from the iceberg of extradition with which the captain seemed determined to collide. Ip also still carries the stigma – arguably unfairly after all this time – of the national security brouhaha of 2003.

And so to media speculation about other possible candidates. Former candidate Henry Tang Ying-nien’s name has been floated by the Financial Times, which claimed he might take over no later than March 2020 to serve the balance of Lam’s term. An interesting possibility for the man who in 2012 achieved the rare distinction of losing an election widely believed to have been rigged in his favour. Another name to make the headlines is former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who lost to Lam last time round. Someone holding American nationality when first recruited to the administration is possibly not the most likely to get the nod in the middle of a trade war.

Finally there has been speculation about another finance man and Financial Times nominee, Norman Chan Tak-lam who stepped down from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority earlier this year. Not in the political mainstream during the past decade, though that may work in his favour, but not really perceived as having the common touch either.

One possible candidate not to get much attention so far would be former Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung. He would be an outstanding choice but is unlikely to be interested. In any case, if he can be lured back into the administration there is a more pressing need for him to restore the reputation of his old department.

But now let us look at the situation from a different angle. There are a number of controversial issues laying untouched in Lam’s in-tray: a clear timetable for working towards universal suffrage; a proper response to the overwhelming public demand for a comprehensive statutory commission of inquiry; how to steer the police force back to being Asia’s finest; how to heal the damage to social cohesion in the community; how to handle the sensitive subject of Article 23 legislation which surely cannot be delayed much longer; the return, as one day we must, to the sensitive topic of extradition, etc. In short, we need a doer, someone with the total confidence of Beijing (so they don’t need to waste time trying to second guess the capital’s position) while at the same time fully steeped in local sentiments, with their finger on the pulse of the Hong Kong community. Someone who could with confidence argue for Hong Kong’s corner.

Here there are two outstanding names: Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai. Tsang was born in the mainland and came to Hong Kong at the age of two. He was educated at St Paul’s College and Hong Kong University. He is a committed Marxist and was a founder member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. As the second president of Legco from 2008 – 16 he gained a reputation for being fair and accommodating, acceptable to all parties. He confessed himself “shocked and saddened” by the events of 1989 in Tianmen. In a recent interview with Hong Kong Free Press, he revealed himself to be totally alert to current issues and in tune with local sentiments, particularly among young people. He was one of the intermediaries admitted to the Polytechnic University when it was under siege. Tsang showed interest in running for CE in both 2012 and 2017 but in the event did not stand.

Fan was also mainland born before coming to Hong Kong. Her English name was derived from the Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth. She was educated at St Stephen’s Girls College and Hong Kong University. Under British administration she was appointed to both Legco and Exco. After Patten became Governor Fan moved closer to mainland authorities and became president of the provisional Legco meeting in Shenzhen from January 1997. She was first president of Legco proper from 1998 – 2008, and a member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee until last year. The rapid switch from British to Chinese loyalties was controversial at the time and one columnist dubbed her Hong Kong’s Jiang Qing. Her image softened earlier this century following three personal episodes. In 2001 she was diagnosed with cancer, and to fight it had a mastectomy. In 2004, she was widowed when her husband of 30 years passed away. And she donated one of her own kidneys to save her daughter’s life. Fan was elected to Legco in a geographic constituency. In 2011, Fan made enquiries about standing for CE in the election due the following year but was persuaded not to run to leave the way clear for Tang.

Our first four chief executives have been two administrators, one businessman and one professional. We desperately need a politician to address the political problems we can all see around us. Here are two prime examples of experienced candidates, either of whom should be acceptable to Beijing. We could even kill two birds with one stone by bringing forward universal suffrage to early 2020. Let Hong Kong people choose between them. That is one country, two systems.