Hong Kong, one of the world’s greatest financial hubs, is staging its election on Sunday, putting an end to speculations as to who will next govern the country as its chief executive.
Three candidates are vying for the toughest job in the nation: Beijing-backed Carrie Lam, 59, who is the outgoing chief executive’s right-hand woman; crowd favorite and former financial secretary John Tsang, 65; and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, 71, who is the current outlier.
But it’s not the populace who will determine Hong Kong’s next leader. An electoral college composed of 1,194 pro-establishment and pan-democratic representatives will cast their votes tomorrow. Majority of the electoral council is pro-Beijing.
According to the BBC, groups that support Beijing were granted the most seats at the council. Pro-democracy activists, on the other hand, currently occupy 325 seats. The BBC noted that it is the “highest number” for the opposition so far.
“The Nanny,” “Uncle Chips” or “The Judge”
Carrie Lam-Cheng Yuet-Ngor has been a long-time civil servant of Hong Kong and served as chief secretary to incumbent chief executive CY Leung. Ever loyal to the mainland, she represented the establishment during a debate with pro-democracy student activists on national television in 2014.
TIME Magazine reported that Tsang, who his Hong Kong fans endearingly refer to as “Uncle Chips” or “Mr. Pringles,” leads the polls by 20 percent. Tsang, who was finance minister of Hong Kong, left his post in December to kickstart his campaign.
Tsang remains optimistic even if Lam currently has the upper hand. Carrie Lam, who is dubbed as “The Nanny” by the media, bagged 580 ballots during the nominating round. Last month, Chinese state leader Zhang Deijiang, visited Shenzhen to lobby for Lam.
“No one enters a race without thinking they will win,” he told TIME on Thursday.
“Why are we campaigning? Because we have a way we think we can govern. I believe [Beijing] would want a Chief Executive who has cross-party support, who is supported by different parts of the spectrum. I think I’m the only one who has that.”
Meanwhile, former judge Woo Kwok-hing, who is relatively quiet, is a pro-democratic candidate in complete support of universal suffrage. The problem is, he’s not as popular as his two rivals, and does not have the support of major parties.
Philip Yeung, an academic and a political analyst at the South China Morning Post, urged citizens to “forget the labels” and instead ask themselves which leader can unite Hong Kong and better it. He wrote in his recent column, “The deep divisions cannot be wished away by smiles and good public relations vibes. We need someone with the healing touch.”
Yeung called on the public to choose a leader who welcomes contrarian views and promotes transparency by implementing the third-party review of government programs. He also added that Hong Kong’s next leader should stop appointing the same group of officials to agencies, and criticized former politicians, such as Eddie Ng Hak-kim, Lau Kong-wah or Greg So Kam-leung, who he described as “wishy-washy.”
“Appointments should be made strictly on merit, regardless of political affiliations…If you want quality governance, hire quality people. Cronyism is the cancer of good governance,” he said.
With mainland China’s backing, it is likely that Lam will secure the country’s highest seat, according to several media outlets.
The younger populace isn’t too happy with this prediction, especially Joshua Wong, who led the “Umbrella Movement” — a pro-democracy activist group born out of the mass youth protests that took place in 2014, demanding China to allow Hong Kong locals the right to choose their leaders. China shunned the demand.
Lam, who won’t bend to public opinion, is a staunch supporter of the status quo. Although the legislative council whose members will cast their ballots tomorrow were partially elected, Beijing has repeatedly refused universal suffrage. Lam wants a similar future for Hong Kong, in which candidates for the chief executive race have to be endorsed by a “nomination committee.”
Hong Kong was bestowed political and economic autonomy under China’s “one country, two systems” rule following the Hong Kong handover. This means that the country’s way of life will remain as is, until 2047, when the rule expires. Pro-democrats, however, argue that China’s meddling with Hong Kong’s domestic affairs has only become worse.
“What we worry about is one country, two systems turning into ‘one country, 1.5 systems,’ or finally ‘one country, one system,'” Wong told USA Today.
“China has its own definition of democracy, but in fact it’s totally against rule of law and judicial independence. So that will be a nightmare for us.”
Wong continues to campaign for total democracy in Hong Kong. He has been lobbying for support from democratic countries and has been in talks with the British Parliament and the United States government to urge them to revisit their foreign policies towards Hong Kong.
[Featured Image by Vincent Yu/AP Images, File]