Hong Kong will be given its third Chief Executive since the handover in 1997 of the British territory to the People’s Republic of China. It could be Bland (Henry Tang) or Earnest (CY Leung) in March 2012. The new CE’s term will commence 1st July 2012.
The right to choose the next Chief Executive is confined to a 1,200 college of electors which will be in place by December 2011. They represent 0.01 of HK’s population.
Each ‘constituency’ of this electorate is assigned a fixed number of block votes. Any candidate wishing to be considered for CE has to collect a minimum of 100 nominations.
It is a rubber-stamp assembly to legitimize Beijing’s nominee, very much in the mould of politics on the mainland. The 1,200 electors strain keenly for smoke signals from Beijing on whom to vote for. They would rather not back the wrong horse.
The ‘small-circle’ Election Committee consisted originally of 800 members. In June 2010 legislators voted to increase its size to 1,200 members. This was a concession by Beijing to soften the public ridicule of the process for the most important job in Hong Kong.
Some members of the pro-democracy camp supported this ‘reform’ on the understanding that it will be totally abolished by 2017. They want the next CE to be elected by universal suffrage.
No one is sure if the Election Committee will be disbanded next round as there are mixed signals from the administration and silence from Beijing.
Beijing has been at pains even before 1997 to assure Hong Kong’s businessmen that no change will be made to its pro-business policies.
The 1,200 member CE election committee aggregates chambers of commerce, New Territories villagers, professional bodies, pro-Beijing organizations (NPC deputies, CPPCC members) and other narrow-interest groups.
Many are known in HK as ‘rotten boroughs’ created for the purpose of stacking the deck. They have limited self-interest agendas and are easily shown whom to vote for.
A situation of two CE candidates, both approved by Beijing, is a new one. This will really tax the electors.
Beijing may eventually wish to harness both in some form, while it gauges both the small-circle and public support for the candidates.
HK citizens locked out of choosing their leader
Hong Kong’s 7 million residents are out of the loop. They have to watch in bewilderment as this ‘Theater of the Absurd’ plays out over the next nine months. In a free election, it is unlikely that either candidate would have a chance of being elected.
The first chief executive, the hapless Tung Chee-hwa had his second term curtailed for failing to push through the infamous Article 23 Security Bill.
About 500-700,000 Hongkongers from all walks of life poured out on 1st July, 2003 to march peacefully against the Bill. Tung was shell-shocked and his masters in Beijing even more so. It caught all the expert advisers off-guard.
The outpouring of mass disapproval against this attempt to curb Hong Kong’s freedoms of assembly and press, was deeply felt and profound.
ATV, HK’s second TV station, has been acquired by mainland owners. Recently the head of RTHK, the public service broadcaster was replaced by a civil servant with no journalism or broadcast experience. Students at HKU were roughed-up by police with plain-clothes mainland security personnel present during the visit of a high mainland official.
All these add up to genuine disquiet about the freedoms that Hong Kong residents take for granted.
Hong Kong citizens are additionally facing unaffordable housing, rising inflation, confusion about Cantonese versus English-medium schooling, the depreciating currency (it is pegged to the US Dollar) and policy-paralysis in government.
They despair over the administration’s seeming unwillingness to use its massive foreign reserves and healthy fiscal surplus to address systemic, long-term social problems.
The administration is pushing to spend billions on a joint bridge infrastructure project with Guangdong Province and to add a third runway to HK international airport, amidst expert misgivings about the need for or commercial viability of these schemes.
This lopsided prioritization reinforces the long-held suspicion among HK residents of collusion between property developers and bureaucrats, to the detriment of ordinary people.
Hong Kong is a city suffering from prolonged absence of political leadership and a coherent programme. People are weary, impatient and losing faith fast.
Henry Tang (Bland) waits to be appointed CE
Henry Tang Ying-yen is a classic silver-spoon scion of a textile tycoon. His father, Tang Hsiang Chien escaped to Hong Kong from China in 1950 in the aftermath of the 1949 victory of Mao’s communist forces and made his fortune as a textile trader.
HC Tang was subsequently nominated to the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Politicial Consultative Conference (CPPCC) which is the advisory body to the nation’s legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC).
The CPPCC was mooted in 1945 to align the Communist Party and the nationalist KMT to a common agenda. When the communists won decisively in 1949, the KMT fled to Taiwan to proclaim the Republic of China (ROC).
The CPPCC then continued as a nominal advisory body which assembles in Beijing every five years in parallel with the NPC. The NPC approves government budgets and policies.
Henry’s ‘red’ family credentials are well established. The Beijing leadership has been grooming Henry steadily through the senior ranks for ten years. He was initiated into the Tung Chee-hwa administration in July 2002 as Secretary for Commerce, Industry & Technology.
Henry replaced Antony Leung as Finance Secretary in August 2003 when Leung had to resign for purchasing a Mercedes days before he himself announced a Budget tax increase on cars.
When Donald Tsang was confirmed as CE in 2005 (after acting as CE from July 2003 when CH Tung resigned), Rafael Hui replaced him as Chief Secretary. Henry Tang moved into the Chief Secretary’s position in 2007 when Rafael Hui retired.
Henry is best known for his impressive cellar of premium Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. His outstanding contribution as financial secretary was to remove the tax on wine. That won him the gratitude of wine consumers, merchants and importers.
The wine tax abolished in 2008 catapulted Hong Kong beyond London and New York to become the premier wine auction capital of the world. In 2007 the value of wine imported into HK was US$185 million. In 2010 wine import soared to US$858 million – much of that destined for the mainland.
As with Art Auctions, it is the gush of mainland cash driving the wine auction market. Cynics label this as money laundering with prestige attached.
Given his privileged upbringing, love of fine wine and the lifestyle it connotes, Henry is an affable sort who never needed to cloak-and-dagger his way to the top.
He treats his associates and subordinates with courtesy and has an easy, relaxed style. The civil service is very comfortable with Henry Tang. He is very much hands-off and let’s the bureaucrats get on with their duties without harassment.
Awkward in public and unable to coherently address unscripted Q&A, Henry comes across as not having his fingers on the pulse of the society he may be called to lead.
Business tycoons are most comfortable with him.
CY Leung (Earnest) wants the job, has an agenda
The civil service is wary and nervous of CY Leung. He is the kind of driven boss they dread. Life will not be comfortable for clock-watchers and time-servers under a CY Leung regime.
Unlike Henry, Leung Chun-ying is the son of a policeman. He obtained a diploma in surveying at HK Poly, then went on to Bristol Poly to complete a BA in Real Estate Management.
When he returned to HK, he joined Jones Lang Wooton in 1977. Within 5 years Leung was chairman of its HK Branch, reportedly earning HK$10million. He was admired in local circles as the "Emperor of the Working Class".
His colleagues and associates in the real estate business acknowledge his skills, knowledge, leadership and organizational abilities.
He was a former chairman of the HK branch of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and president of the HK Institute of Surveyors. He has chaired the councils of Lingnan and City Universities.
He served as advisor on land reform to Shenzen, Tianjin and Shanghai municipalities. He is international economic advisor for Hebei province.
It was CY Leung’s credentials as a very competent real estate strategist, leader and organizer, which propelled him into the sights of the Communist Party looking for talent in Hong Kong.
He has been the ‘Convenor’ of the Unofficial members of the Executive Council (the CE’s cabinet) till he resigned in September to stand for CE. Donald Tsang has retained him to help shape his final Policy Address.
CY is best remembered for supporting CH Tung in his 1997 plan to build 85,000 new flats to increase affordable housing stock so that at least 70% of HK residents would be able to afford homes over 10 years. The Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) planned to sell public housing to means-qualified residents at 30-40% below market prices.
In 2003 the HOS scheme was mothballed by the HK government. Private developers are not supportive of an increased stock of public housing. They are not interested in 70% of the population (nearly 5 million) having access to flats below market prices.
Two candidates. One almost disinterested.
CY Leung is actively meeting community groups across Hong Kong. He seems to have an appreciation for the plight of the under-class and the widening rich-poor gap. Ordinary people can relate to him. He reaches out. He listens. He takes notes.
Henry is taking the position of an heir waiting to be crowned. He is not going down to interact with society, declare his agenda, solicit support or do any more than wait to be confirmed by Beijing.
CY Leung is the outsider who must generate a wave of popular hope. He badly wants to become the next CE and claims to have an agenda to get HK moving again.
Given the last 15 years of coasting, HK needs bold measures to re-ignite its dynamism. It must deploy its wealth sensibly to make life bearable for the poor and sandwich classes.
Between the two candidates, CY Leung deserves to be given a chance to show what he can do for Hong Kong.
However, given Beijing’s ear for the business lobby and paranoic fear of ‘instability’, it may opt for the status-quo. The minders are sure of Henry. They are not too sure of CY. He thinks too deeply and hath a mean and hungry look.