Multiple news outlets have cited unnamed sources as saying that Zhang Dejiang, the Chinese state leader in charge of Hong Kong affairs, recently visited Shenzhen and told chief executive electors from the pro-Beijing camp and business sectors that Carrie Lam was the only leadership contender supported by the central government.
Zhang was cited as saying that it was not only the decision from him, or China Liaison Office director Zhang Xiaoming, but a decision by the Central Politburo. Sun Chunlan, head of the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party, also attended the meetings.
The sources also claimed Zhang Dejiang said the central government was not handpicking a candidate but only expressing its view. Candidates were still chosen by election committee members.
The meetings Zhang hosted came a week before the nomination period starts on February 14. In the last election in 2012, Liu Yandong, state councilor and a Politburo member at the time, only came to Shenzhen to meet with electors four days before the election to urge them to support Leung Chun-ying.
Chinese General Chamber of Commerce chairman Jonathan Choi Koon-shum did not directly address whether he had met with Zhang to discuss the race on Monday.
“We often exchange views with the central government, we won’t say when or where – the chamber has close connections with the central government,” he said. He also said the chamber is still inclined to give all of its 18 nominations to Lam.
Carrie Lam said on Monday night that she will work hard in the race, denying that she benefited from the meetings between Zhang and electors.
“[I need to] face the general public in this election, I cannot see where there is one person or one organisation that can affect the public’s views on contenders,” she said.
She added that electors had the freedom to express support for contenders.
Too much done
Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, legal sector lawmaker and a coordinator of the pro-democracy camp chief executive electors, questioned whether it was necessary for Zhang to do so much to help Lam.
“The rules have been set by you, and you decided the result of the election even before the nomination period started – such a move will make Hongkongers quite antipathetic,” he said on a RTHK programme on Tuesday.
Kwok said it was uncertain whether the result had already been set since, in the past, many said things claiming they represented the central government, but the statements they gave turned out to be wrong.
Kwok said the pro-democracy camp’s goal is to make the election competitive and oppose a manipulated election. He said it will not affect voting plans for the camp: “[Zhang] made it so obvious, it may be even easier to decide [who to nominate].”
Michael Tien Puk-sun, a pro-Beijing New People’s Party lawmaker and an elector who did not attend the meetings, said he was confused by Zhang’s statement.
He said that, under the framework set by Beijing in August 31, 2014, the central government would support two to three chief executive candidates before they compete a popular vote.
“To say that Carrie Lam is the only one accepted or supported by the central government – it seems this framework does not exist anymore. I am confused, why would this be?” he told i-Cable news channel.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he did not know Zhang visited Shenzhen to talk about the election, when asked on Tuesday.
The nomination period for the small-circle chief executive race runs from February 14 to March 1. The main contenders include former chief secretary Carrie Lam, lawmaker Regina Ip, ex-judge Woo Kwok-hing and former finance chief John Tsang. The election takes place on March 26.