Politics | How Hong Kong's tearful capitalists abandoned John Tsang
Former Liberal Party chairman James Tien said some Hong Kong businessmen had turned to vote for Carrie Lam from John Tsang. Photo: Asia Times
Former Liberal Party chairman James Tien said some Hong Kong businessmen had turned to vote for Carrie Lam from John Tsang. Photo: Asia Times

How Hong Kong’s tearful capitalists abandoned John Tsang

City's tycoons showed their defeatist attitude by caving in and backing Beijing's favorite, Carrie Lam

March 27, 2017 6:29 PM (UTC+8)

Hong Kong tycoons may be as sharp as knives when it comes to making money, but they’re probably not that smart when playing politics with the Chinese communists.

Most local heavyweights backed Carrie Lam, the Beijing-favored and victorious candidate, to become the city’s next leader. Former financial secretary John Tsang, meanwhile, suffered a colossal defeat despite having run a widely praised campaign that won him popular appeal with many ordinary people.

With 365 votes, Tsang’s haul was less than half of Lam’s 777. This would seem to indicate that after nine years as Hong Kong’s leading financial official, Tsang failed to garner much support from the city’s big guns —some of whom may have encouraged him to enter the race in the first place.

In the final moments of campaigning, Hopewell Holdings managing director Thomas Jeffrey Wu — who had earlier nominated Tsang — ended up rooting for Lam (also backed by his father, Sir Gordon). Ditto for Jacky Chim Kim-kiu, son of former legislator, golden broker and jailbird Chim Pui-chung.

Even tycoon Richard Li Tsar-kai, son of Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing, pledged his support for Lam in the final week.

James Tien Pei-chun, former chairman of the pro-business Liberal Party, said Sunday that many Hong Kong businessmen wanted to support Tsang but finally followed Beijing’s preference to vote for Lam.

‘You got what you want’

“Some Election Committee members from the business sector told me that they had voted for Carrie Lam in order to send a ‘you got what you want’ message to Beijing, which will then have no excuse to not support Hong Kong’s economy, particularly during an economic down cycle,” Tien said. 

The call from the Liaison Office for unity among tycoons, estimated to hold influence on around 200 votes out of the possible 1,194, had been the strongest ever, he said.

He also echoed Li Ka-shing’s criticism of the pan-democrats for having vetoed political reform in 2015. Tien said Tsang would have won the election under an one-person-one-vote system.

However, Tien should keep in mind that Tsang probably wouldn’t have been a candidate at all had Beijing’s proposals for electoral reform have been approved by legislators. Under that system, candidates would have needed at least 600 votes from a 1,200-strong Nomination Committee.

Hong Kong capitalists, represented by Tien, could only blame themselves for losing their political power in the city over the past decade. In 2012, Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong was spun off from Tien’s Liberal Party. The fact that pro-Beijing lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan took over the Liberal Party and joined the Executive Council at the end of last year showed that Hong Kong businessmen have lost almost all their political power.

Many Hong Kong tycoons lost their will to fight for the candidate they wanted – Tsang, an obviously more pro-business choice than Carrie Lam. They either talked evasively or simply did not show up to vote.

Last Wednesday, heavyweight Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, 89, confused the media by saying that he would vote for a “goddess-like” candidate such as Nuwa, who is a goddess who fixed the pillars of heaven and patched up the sky and so saved the world from chaos.

Li was seen shaking hands on Sunday with all three candidates — Lam, Tsang and former Judge Woo Kwok-hing — but still declined to comment on the election result.

One notable absence was New World Development’s Henry Cheng, who reportedly suffered a stroke in January and didn’t show up to cast his ballot. In fact, he hasn’t been seen in public since the Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua, with whom he had business ties, went missing.

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