Workers’ Rights Remain Ignored in the Race for Hong Kong’s Top Job

On March 26th, 2017, Hong Kong will witness the result of the Fifth Term Chief Executive Election and the dawn of a new administration for the next five years. However, among her some seven million inhabitants, only a few privileged will be eligible to vote as the electoral college, which sole function is to elect the Chief Executive is only consisted of 1,200 people who are heavily represented by Beijing Loyalists and business elites. As for the rest of the public, the election represents nothing more than an urban gossip.

Among the three candidates, both Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor and John Tsang Chung-wah were top government officials from the previous administration, while another candidate, Woo Kwok-hing is a retired judge.  According to various sources, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Zhang Dejiang received a number of Election Committees in Shenzhen early February to consolidate the pro-establishment camp’s support for Carrie Lam, which made her become the default frontrunner in the CE Election, despite trailing John Tsang considerably in terms of public support.  As a result, Carrie Lam was able to attain 572 qualifying nominations from a total of 1,194, only 28 short of the votes required to win the election with rumours that she still has nominations in hand that has not been submitted.  In contrast, regardless of his overwhelming public support, John Tsang could only obtain 160 nominations with the majority coming from the pro-democratic camp.

By interfering at such an early stage, it is obvious that top government officials from Beijing would want to secure as many votes as possible for Carrie Lam in order to avoid the backlash of the low support Leung Chun-ying received in 2012.  Despite the outcome of the election, the huge discrepancy between public opinions and the number of nominations only further highlights the absurdity of the electoral system.  The narrow electoral basis not only allows Beijing to ascertain her preferred

candidates in winning the election, it also gives her a strong hand to control the margin of victory.  In short, with the Election Committee dominated by the pro-establishment camp and business sectors (approx. 450 and 300 votes respectively), the outcome of the CE Election will be decided by two interests—the Beijing interest and the business interest.  Because without the blessing from these two factions, no candidate will be able to secure the 601 votes required to win the final election.  As a result, any candidate who intends to stand a viable chance to win the election will have to be ultimately accountable to the interests of the above factions, and this is reflected in their election platforms.  In fact, many labour and social welfare issues remain unanswered in the candidates’ platforms.  For instance, both Carrie Lam and her arch-rival, John Tsang, do not endorse the legislation on Standard Working Hours, while all three candidates are either ambiguous or unsupportive on issues such as Universal Retirement Scheme and Collective Bargaining.  Carrie Lam even went on to proclaim that she was “not a socialist” at an early stage of her campaign in an attempt to secure support from the business sector.  And just like their predecessors, inclination towards the business sector will continue to dictate the policy-making approach of the new administration.

Without genuine universal suffrage, the interests of top Beijing officials and business cartels will remain the deciding factors behind the CE Election. Hong Kongers cannot be disillusioned to think that labour rights and public interests will be on the top of any candidate’s agenda who is seriously challenging for the top job. Hardliners or moderators alike, it is conceivable that the Chief Executive-elect will only continue to follow his/her predecessors’ tradition in bowing to Beijing and business interests. If Carrie Lam is to win the election as many may predict, it is a further proof of an unjust electorate system that disregard public opinions and public interests will be increasingly marginalized in future CE Elections.