Election race in HK has become more complicated

Updated: 2017-03-01 07:52

By Zhou Bajun(HK Edition)

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Zhou Bajun argues that the political situation during the CE race has changed considerably because of the public'about-face'by some pro-establishment members

The difference between the pro-establishment camp and the opposition was clear in the Chief Executive elections from the first term through to the fourth.

In the current fifth-term CE election process, however, certain pro-establishment hopefuls are courting the opposition camp in order to do as well as possible. This is the first time this has happened since the handover.

Both John Tsang Chun-wah and Woo Kwok-hing held important posts in the Hong Kong establishment. They are currently vying for the fifth-term CE office as pro-establishment nominees. What set them apart from other pro-establishment hopefuls is that the majority or even all of those who nominated them are opposition members of the CE Election Committee (EC).

John Tsang said publicly on Feb 17 that all seven Legislative Council members from the Democratic Party (DP), the oldest opposition party in SAR history, would nominate him for the CE election. This is the first time since the handover that opposition legislators have nominated a pro-establishment CE candidate. What is worth examining, then, is whether this phenomenon is the result of the DP moving toward the role of "constructive opposition" or Tsang leaning closer to the opposition camp.

Election race in HK has become more complicated

DP Chairman Wu Chi-wai explained on the evening of Feb 16 that the DP central committee decided to recommend Tsang to its EC members for nomination because he is capable of uniting Hong Kong society and willing to change his policy narrative in response to the DP's suggestions. This includes their suggestions regarding the decision announced by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Aug 31, 2015 and national security legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR. Wu added that Tsang's willingness to change his policies had eased his party's concerns. His explanation showed the DP is not becoming a "constructive opposition" party. It is more a case that someone in the pro-establishment camp is stepping away.

There are two criteria for "identifying with" the pro-establishment camp: One is being a part of the HKSAR establishment (government); and the other is sharing the fundamental political stands and key political views of the SAR government as well as respecting and accepting the central government's constitutional authority over the HKSAR. The latter is more important than the former. Opposition members in LegCo are technically part of the "establishment" but definitely do not fit the second criterion - which is why they are called the opposition.

Why are certain important figures from the HKSAR establishment cozying up to the opposition camp now? Apart from the fact that running for the CE office means a lot to their social position, as well as to their personal ambition, it is also because they share the same background with some opposition parties. They share the same political "genes" and it was merely a matter of timing for them to come together - at least for now.

As for the reason why they remained in opposite camps until now, it was mainly because of the "One Country, Two Systems" policy and its defining quality. In the first five years after the handover, the implementation of the "One Country, Two Systems" policy emphasized "mutual non-interference" of some kind between the central government and the HKSAR. This allowed Hong Kong society to overlook the "One Country" prerequisite and be fixated with "protecting the differences between two systems". It just so happened that the handover was accompanied by the devastating "Asian financial crisis". This kept Hong Kong struggling to revive its economy for years and left little room for serious political activities. At that time there was simply no need or opportunity for those ideologically connected elites in and outside the establishment to openly "reunite".

Since the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement was signed between the HKSAR and the mainland in mid-2003, the implementation of the "One Country, Two Systems" policy entered a new stage. "One Country" became emphasized in economic affairs while "Two Systems" remained the focus in politics. In the 7-8 years that followed, Hong Kong's economy found itself being integrated significantly into the national economy in concerted efforts to bring the former back to normal levels of growth. By the end of 2011, however, things began to change in Hong Kong. Some local residents could not handle the sudden "reversal of fortune" and chose to vent their frustrations on tourists from the mainland. A few separatists waged "guerrilla war" on mainland visitors. As a result, the establishment also heard voices of dissent about further economic integration with the mainland from within.

The "turning point" came when the opposition camp launched the illegal "Occupy Central" movement in 2014. This was followed by the blocking in 2015 of the electoral reform plan which could have given Hong Kong voters the right to select the CE by universal suffrage this year. Now, with the separatist faction out in force following the sixth-term LegCo elections last September and particularly the swearing-in farce staged by some separatist lawmakers-elect last October, the political situation has become even more complicated. We are therefore seeing the public about-face of some important figures from the pro-establishment camp.

(HK Edition 03/01/2017 page8)