Auditor George had a busy Friday, not due to work but because he was entertaining appeals to make the “correct” decision in tomorrow’s Legislative Council elections.
It began with an email from the boss to everyone in the mid-size firm, reminding them to vote. “Filibusters in the legislature are damaging Hong Kong…we call on you to make the right choice,” it said.
Then, calls poured in. By 4pm, a dozen acquaintances – chief financial officers, bankers and fellow accountants – have spoken to George.
Friend: “Hey, how’s business lately?”
Friend: “However busy you are, don’t forget to vote on Sunday.”
Friend: “Business is getting tough.”
Friend: “Where else can we look up to other than the Mainland market?”
George: “That’s true.”
Friend: “By the way, what is your membership number with the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants?”
Imagine those financial specialists spending the whole day ringing up people on a prepared list, jotting down their professional registration number to prove that they called them in order to woo votes for pro-Beijing candidates.
This is the kind of robust telephone campaigning effort that no Hong Kong-based political party can master. And George is just one of the thousands of apolitical bean counters being called upon to make his vote count.
The irony is this effort has nothing to do weeding out filibusters or blocking separatists from the legislature. Both Beijing and the Hong Kong government expected it to be anarchy in the months to come anyway.
What really matters is its implication for the Chief Executive election in March; or, to put it simply, whether Leung Chun-yin will get to keep his job.
Simply imagine a victory for the many that are campaigning on a three-letter platform – ABC (Anybody but C Y Leung).
The stakes are high enough for Beijing to warn all potential contenders for the top job against declaring their candidacy before the Legco poll. Be it Jasper Tsang, Carrie Lam or John Tsang, no one gets to fan up any “false” hope.
The optimists are saying that a victory for the ABCs will convince Beijing to replace Leung with a moderate more acceptable to Hongkongers in order to have a fresh start.
The pessimists see Leung’s abrasive style as an extension of President Xi Jinping’s hard-line policy.
Leung has proven his absolute loyalty, which is the only thing that matters in Beijing’s corridors of power nowadays.
When one man decides, it’s hard to guess.
Even if the pessimists have it, a victory for the ABCs will create a hurdle in Leung’s re-election. First, all legislators have a vote in the CE election. Second, arm-twisting is not easy in the 1,200 election committee.
Let us do some maths.
In the 2012 election, Beijing managed to get Leung only 689 votes. It has been a tough lobby. Back then, people didn’t trust him. Now many hate him.
Some of this hatred is to do with principle, more is about money. Among the latter are property tycoons who control a big tranche of votes in the committee.
In the past four years, they have lost out to their mainland counterparts under Beijing’s policy to break up the tycoons’ decades-long monopoly in both the city’s economy and politics.
Leung has been instrumental in this change in the tide.
At the same time, the so-called Beijing allies are as divided as the political camps in Zhongnaihan, thanks to the battle against corruption and the bitter power struggle that’s raged since Xi took the helm in 2012.
A telling example is the surprisingly critical commentaries carried by several Beijing-controlled media in the past month against the Joint Liaison Office for meddling in the city’s affairs.
Then, there are the liberals who have been working hard to increase their seats in the election committee from 250 to 300. Under the ABC principle, it won’t be surprising if they don’t put up their own candidate, and vote for Leung’s top contender.
In the end, the cost of all this will come dear; top political appointments in Beijing or lucrative business projects in return for a vote, according to some.
No wonder George’s mobile was still ringing at 9pm.