A recurring theme in 19th century novels has a young man rejected as a suitable husband because of his poverty. The suitor then goes abroad to make his fortune, returns with his pockets full of gold, and discovers that the lady of his dreams has already married someone else.

This theme could be found reproduced in a shorter timeframe in last Tuesday’s Standard. On the front page we had John Tsang, former finance chief and would-be chief executive, announcing his manifesto. At the top of this, to general surprise, was a promise to tackle political reform – abandoned ignominiously after Occupy – and article 23 legislation – abandoned equally ignominiously somewhat earlier amid overwhelming public opposition.

John Tsang
John Tsang. Photo: Facebook.

In Mr. Tsang’s defence it was said that he was stepping into these two hornets’ nests simultaneously with good reason. The idea is that some concession on political reform by the central government might be matched with some concession on Article 23 by the pan-democrats, leading to general happiness. I expect this to happen right after mainland gene manipulators announce the first flying pig.

Clearly though there were other considerations at work here. Mr. Tsang wished to demonstrate that he was a Beijing-friendly candidate, in the hope that his candidacy might be supported, or at least not opposed, by the part of the central government which gives instructions to its tame members of the election committee.

Alas, turning to page 2, readers discovered that this particular bird had already flown. Mr. Zhang Dejiang, who is the chairman of the National People’s Congress and also, apparently, head of the United Front Work department of the Communist Party, had held a series of meetings. He had “flown to Shenzhen,” said the Standard, to meet representatives of chambers, political parties and social groups.

zhang dejiang
Photo: StandNews.

What the Standard did not say, but which is just as interesting, is that the said representatives had all been summoned to Shenzhen to meet him. Which gives you a pretty good idea of which chambers, political parties and social groups were involved. The purpose of the meetings was for Mr. Zhang to announce that Beijing’s preferred candidate is Carrie Lam. Mr. Tsang was spurned before he had even got the ring out of the box.

Mr. Zhang added some interesting details. He said the “decision to endorse the chief secretary was made by the Party Politburo as a whole.” The interesting thing about this is that the decision was apparently made before the rest of us knew that Ms. Lam was even running. The Politburo did not, clearly, have a set of CVs from the rival candidates. Nor did it consider their respective merits. In fact I suppose it had a proposal from the local Liaison Office which went through on an “anyone against?” basis.

The next paragraph was hilarious. I quote it in full. “He said Beijing was not picking the next chief executive as the top post of the SAR should be formally elected by the 1,194-strong Election Committee in accordance with the Basic Law.”

How stupid does he think we are? If a senior Beijing official summons large numbers of election committee members to a meeting and tells them who to vote for, then it is picking the next chief executive, for all practical purposes. Mr. Zhang is in the position of a husband who says he did not kill his wife – he merely cut her head off and nature took its course.

john tsang carrie lam
Carrie Lam (L), John Tsang (R). File Photos: GovHK.

There seemed to be some suspicion in left-wing circles that this might not go down too well. The procedure was defended by two ladies, who took entertainingly contradictory views of the matter. Rita Fan said Beijing was entitled to interfere in the election because it had “an interest.” Elsie Leung, on the other hand, said Beijing was not interfering at all.

Well whoever was pushing Ms. Lam seemed to be doing a good job. In the ensuing week a number of bodies expressed support, including one group which unctuously described Ms. Lam as “Hongkong’s Glory.”

Unanimous support from the Heung Yee Kuk was less surprising. Ms. Lam’s Will of Steel wilted in the New Territories, where the drive to curtail illegal structures was quietly allowed to crawl away and die in a corner after the Kuk opposed it. People who are interested in buying houses round my way are now routinely told by estate agents that once you have bought it “you can do what you like.”

heung yee kuk
Heung Yee Kuk. Photo: HKFP remix.

An interesting new habit has crept in of covering the whole house in a sort of tent of scaffolding and plastic sheeting. The alterations are discreetly performed under this and the house eventually emerges like a fresh butterfly from its chrysalis.

Anyway now we have an anointed candidate I can stop writing about the election, which is a shameless sham. Except to say this: Woo Kwok-hing, who as an unanointed candidate has no chance, was quite right to point out that the Basic Law prohibits parts of the Chinese government from interfering in Hong Kong affairs and this needs to be implemented.

My non-vote to the candidate who promises to move the Central Government Liaison Office to Shenzhen, tell its staff that all communication with the Hong Kong government must be routed through the head of the office and the Chief Executive of the SAR, and tells Hong Kong’s eager beaver movers and shakers that they not only can but must refuse calls from Chinese officials. Any holder of an official or elected post in Hong Kong who is also a member of a Chinese official or elected body can choose which one to resign from.

China Liaison Office in Hong Kong.
China Liaison Office in Hong Kong.

We were once told that the “well water and the river water should not mix.” Some repairs to the dam are in order.

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.