The following statement was published by Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong) on 9 December soon after the resignation of Hong Kong’s hardline and deeply unpopular Chief Executive (head of government) Leung Chun-ying. An elite election committee, of 1,200 mostly Beijing loyalist luminaries and big business representatives, will appoint his replacement on 26 March.
The main contenders are John Tsang Chun-wah, the neo-liberal former finance minister, and Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the former Chief Secretary (government number two). Both have slavishly served the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dictatorship for many years, but Lam is seen as more firmly under Beijing’s control. The CCP has not yet indicated which candidate (there are an additional two outsiders) it wants, which the elite election committee is then expected to follow.
However, it appears Beijing is lining up to support Lam as it has not yet ‘accepted’ Tsang’s resignation from the finance post, after an unusual delay of three weeks, without which he cannot stand. This is because the CCP regime is afraid that a contest between Tsang and Lam could result in the winner receiving such a low vote, possibly forcing a re-run of the entire ‘election’, causing the voting system to be further discredited and the new government to be undermined from the outset. The situation is complicated by a major power struggle inside the Chinese regime in the run-up to this autumn’s leadership changes, and a sharp split in the Hong Kong capitalist elite with traditional Hong Kong capitalist interests facing fierce competition from mainland China corporate groups.
There have been signs the leaders of the pan-democratic opposition parties are shifting to a ‘lesser evil’ position, concentrating their attacks on Lam and testing the water to give their votes – the pan democrats wield one quarter of the votes in the election committee – to Tsang if he is allowed to stand. If this happens, it would represent a new level of political backsliding on the part of the bourgeois democratic leaders, whose timid approach has acted as a major brake on the Hong Kong democracy struggle throughout its history.
All the establishment’s candidates represent continued austerity and – under Beijing’s pressure – continued attacks on democratic rights. The political differences are largely cosmetic or over approach rather than content. Only implacable opposition to the undemocratic political system and mass struggle, with the building of a working class and socialist alternative, can bring about real democratic change in Hong Kong and in China.
At the time of writing, ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung, a veteran left-wing campaigner whose legislative seat is under threat in the law courts, is considering to stand in the Chief Executive elections, despite its undemocratic basis, to use this as a platform to mobilise and collect ‘public nominations’ (outside the official election system). This is a tactic that could potentially transform the political situation by offering a clear anti-establishment alternative, to expose and issue a warning of mass resistance against whoever is eventually picked in the establishment-only vote.
CY has quit! Millions of Hong Kongers are celebrating the news. As Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying has been an absolute disaster. It is a supreme irony that his bosses in the Chinese dictatorship have ‘disqualified’ CY just as he was pushing to disqualify a large segment of Hong Kong’s elected legislators. His rule has been marked by attacks on democratic rights and social polarisation. In real terms, poverty has got worse and the housing crisis even more unbearable. CY’s agenda was all about increased mainland political control over Hong Kong: national education, the undemocratic LegCo purge, aggressive police tactics against protests, and a fresh push to bring in Article 23 (anti-subversion law).
The man is gone (he will not seek ‘re-election’ in March), but the system he represented still remains! The struggle for democratic rights must be stepped up. Whatever official ‘spin’ is put on CY’s departure, the real reason is his rule was made untenable by mass pressure and protests. The September LegCo election results were a humiliating setback for the establishment camp, with their vote cut from 44.1 percent in the 2012 elections to 40.2 percent. This in turn was part of the legacy from the mass Umbrella Movement of 2014. CY survived that unprecedented 79-day struggle – but as a damaged ruler.
Beijing has now pulled the plug on his disastrous rule. This is a scenario socialists raised in the aftermath of the September elections (see cover image) with the Chinese regime hoping to avert further political upheavals in Hong Kong. As has been widely speculated, Beijing have been deliberating on replacing CY with a less confrontational, less ‘factional’ leader, in an attempt to reduce political tensions. In March’s small-circle election they may now opt for a figure like Finance Secretary, John Tsang Chun-wah, who commands support among Hong Kong’s traditional tycoon families. These groups chafed at CY’s policies, especially his ties to mainland ‘red capitalist’ business interests.
It now seems clear that the LegCo purge and political crisis in Hong Kong of recent weeks was a desperate bid by CY to save his own job. In this he seems to have received support from his CCP factional allies such as Zhang Dejiang of the NPC. This has failed and leaves a big question mark over the purge and the fate of four lawmakers, including ‘Long Hair’ of the LSD, who CY dragged before the courts on a bogus charge of making “improper” oaths.
Politicians who have reached the end of the line often cite “family reasons” or “health reasons” rather than admit their situation is the result of mass pressure and unpopularity. A recent poll published in Hong Kong Free Press showed only 19 percent of Hong Kongers supported CY’s re-election. CY is so distrusted, and has been caught lying so many times, that some people don’t believe his announcement and suspect some kind of trick.
The decision to remove him was almost certainly taken by Xi Jinping and the central leadership, and reflects the power struggle in Beijing. But the reason they acted in this way shows the power of mass struggle. It is the politically charged atmosphere and stubborn resistance of the masses that ended CY’s despicable political career. It is a victory for mass pressure including September’s LegCo election result.
This is a victory, delayed of course, but a victory no less, for the Umbrella Movement – a lesson that needs to be spelt out in the debates about what happens next. It is the second time (out of three) that a Hong Kong Chief Executive has had their rule cut short as a result of mass struggle – remember how Tung Chee-hwa was forced to quit “on health grounds” after the mass protests of 2003 against Article 23.
The lessons of this are crucial for rebuilding the democracy struggle in Hong Kong – and in China. There may be renewed attempts to propose ‘compromise’ and ‘political reconciliation’ under whoever replaces CY. But the corrupt and undemocratic system remains unchanged. CY was a particularly odious representative of the authoritarian establishment, but we must overthrow the whole establishment – the system of capitalist dictatorship – if democratic rights and an end to economic hardships are to become a reality.