By Steve Tsang.

The election of Leung Chun-ying as Hong Kong’s third Chief Executive shows Beijing could and should have left the matter to the people of Hong Kong. What Beijing could not tolerate was the election of someone from the pan-democratic camp such as Albert Ho.  It limited the election to a carefully constituted 1,200 electoral committee and advised many whom to vote for in order to make sure Ho could not win.  We now know someone like Ho would not have been elected had there been a free election.

The official results of the election are of marginal interest. Leung’s poor show, securing only 689 votes out of 1,200, is largely caused by Beijing’s decision to favour his main rival, Henry Tang earlier on. Beijing only shifted its endorsement to Leung after Tang had so grossly mismanaged a series of personal scandals that made him unelectable.  The formal electoral results do not reflect the popular will in Hong Kong.

What is much more indicative of what people in Hong Kong would have preferred is the mock election organized by academics at the University of Hong Kong.  In this exercise, which has no bearing on the electoral outcome, 222,990 citizens took part voluntarily.  55% of them rejected all three candidates.

For those who voted for the candidates, 17.8% voted for Leung, 16.3% for Tang, and only 11.4% for Ho.  The results are important in three ways.

First, voters in Hong Kong are realistic and astute enough to know that there is no point in voting for a candidate unacceptable to Beijing.  Hence, Ho of the pan-democrats gathered few votes even though he was the only candidate not tainted by scandals or other serious concerns.  Beijing should see that allowing the people of Hong Kong a free vote will not mean candidates unacceptable to itself can win office.

Second, Leung enjoys an exceptionally low approval rating at his ‘election’, which is the worst possible start any new Chief Executive can get.  This is not a good result for Hong Kong or, for that matter, the Chinese Government, which desires a strong and effective Chief Executive, after its choice of the first two Chief Executives both discredited themselves in office.  Leung now has a mountain to climb in securing credibility – essential for an effective Chief Executive.

Third and not the least is the reality that Beijing’s eventual choice, Leung, would have won if an open and fair election based on one person one vote and a simple majority had been in place.  Had he been chosen on such a basis he would enjoy credibility.

The 55% who voted in the mock election but not for any of the three had sent a clear message.  They wanted someone who is politically credible – someone who will be responsible to the people of Hong Kong and maintain a good working relationship with Beijing. Ho failed as he could not meet the second requirement.  Tang had openly broken the law with his illegal extension of his home. Leung is, justifiable or not, widely seen as having an authoritarian streak and insufficient respect for the rights of individuals.

Had Hong Kong been allowed to hold an open, free and fair election public scrutiny and the political realism would most probably have produced much more credible Chief Executive candidates.  This is the lesson that policy makers in Beijing should learn as they ponder if direct election of the Chief Executive should be allowed for 2017.

Steve Tsang is Director of the China Policy Institute and Professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.


  1. Useful analysis. It would be interesting to hear WHO the most favoured person was in the mock election. On CY Leung, one should remember that in the run up to the Handover in 1997, Leung was widely distrusted among the political elite and seen as far too close to the HKMAO and the Party. It is therefore slightly surprising that the CPG support for him in this election appears to have been withheld until Tang had effectively blown his own chances. Any insights into Leung’s present relationship with the CPG and the HKMAO would be useful in forming a judgement of how the new CE will be able to deliver over the next period.

    1. Thanks, Hugh. You are absolutely right, of course, about CY’s background. Being someone from the ‘old comrade’ background he enjoys support not so much from Beijing (CPG) itself as from the HK branch of the Party, which still does not operate openly officially. You can’t actually see it but it is there, like air. CPG originally endorsed Henry Tang. The local party was more supportive of CY but it did not publicly contradict CPG. The switch of Chinese endorsement for CY came only after Tang made himself un-electable. The local lads in the Party are not those the big tycoons cultivate. The big tycoons can reach ‘the sky’ or gain access directly to the senior or even the top level in Beijing. Some of them preferred Tang right to the end.

  2. I did not know that CY Leung was widely distrusted … because I’ve never had a history book in my hand now and, you know, what I could read is but only of the 2+2=5 sort. And instinctively I guess the most favoured person in the mock election, the WHO must be one sent to the room 101 by the HKMAO.

    Whilst the involvement of the CPG in the HK affair may have been viewed miserably unwise, as it has been proven so, it betrays that the CPG does not have any confidence at all. Why it should have such a poor image? And what after all is the cornerstone upon which confidence could be built, so that one would feel secure deeply in his heart?

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