Hong Kong’s Tsang to Decide on Run for Top Job in a Few Days

  • Tsang may await formal acceptance of resignation from Beijing
  • Carrie Lam, top deputy to chief executive, also a contender

Hong Kong’s financial chief resigned from his position and said he’d make a decision in a few days about whether to run for chief executive in the first leadership contest since mass pro-democracy protests two years ago.

“As I have said before, whether I would run or not run is a serious and solemn matter,” John Tsang told reporters Monday. “I shall think through this in the coming days and make an announcement when it is ready.” The 65-year-old declined to answer questions.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said earlier in the day that he received Tsang’s resignation and submitted it to authorities in China. Beijing isn’t likely to formally accept the resignation for about two days, after which Tsang will likely announce his plan to run, according to Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Leung unexpectedly announced last week that he wouldn’t seek a second term because of pressure on his family. His departure cleared the field for rivals who might have been reluctant to challenge the incumbent chief executive in March, when a committee of political insiders meets to select his successor.

Popular Official

Leung’s tenure has been marred by escalating protests against China’s stewardship of the Asian financial hub, which is guaranteed independent courts and a free press under a “one country, two systems” framework. In recent weeks, Leung outraged democracy advocates by successfully suing to oust two elected pro-independence lawmakers from the city’s legislature and moving to purge four more in a campaign supported by Beijing.

Tsang has served as finance secretary since 2007. He has long enjoyed the highest approval ratings among the city’s top officials, scoring 63.1 out of 100 according to a Dec. 7 survey by the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Program.

In recent comments on his blog, Tsang said that values such as freedom, openness, diversity and rule of law were the foundation of Hong Kong’s success and should be defended. He called on Hongkongers to bridge escalating social and political divisions.

“If we have a peaceful atmosphere and a harmonious environment, we can seek common ground while reserving differences on the basis of mutual trust and honesty,” he wrote.

Other Contenders

The chief executive will be selected by a committee of 1,200 electors, who themselves were elected from various industries and interest groups on Sunday. Pro-democracy groups won a quarter of the seats -- a record amount -- with the remainder going to pro-establishment candidates, according to the South China Morning Post.

The winner of the chief executive election in March will be subject to approval by China’s National People’s Congress.

Other potential candidates include Carrie Lam, Leung’s chief deputy, who said Saturday she would reconsider her decision to retire when her term ends in June. Her office wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Regina Ip, a lawmaker who more than a decade ago led a failed effort to pass a strict national security law, is expected to announce her candidacy Thursday. Former judge Woo Kwok-hing, 70, threw his hat into the ring in October.

Conventional Wisdom

“Beijing has made it known to the three that they are acceptable, but who will receive their blessing is another story,” Willy Lam said. “The conventional wisdom is that it will go to Carrie Lam. She is the person they think can execute tough policies efficiently and perhaps with less devastating social division.”

Lam campaigned to get China’s electoral reform package through the Legislative Council in 2014, a move that would’ve earned her goodwill in Beijing despite its failure to pass, according to Danny Gittings, an associate law professor at HKU Space and author of “Introduction to the Hong Kong Basic Law.” Her refusal to consider running while Leung was weighing his decision showed her loyalty, he said.

“She would be China’s favorite because she is perceived as being tough but also reasonably popular, whereas John Tsang might be popular, but not considered hard line enough,” Gittings said.

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