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Play the hardball and get re-elected?


Editor's note: This is translated from CitizenNews' weekly digest tracking Hong Kong's political news over the past week. (一周政情:連施辣招 急欲求連任 只顧強勢 無視法理情

Several announcements last week from chief executive Carrie Lam’s administration all pointed to her potential bid for a second term, provided if she could secure Beijing’s blessing with her perceived dominance and achievements.

Lam on last Tuesday announced most quarantine exemptions will be scrapped, and any entry to government facilities must first scan LeaveHomeSafe, a tracing app developed by the government. Patients recovered from Covid-19 will be placed under an additional 14-day quarantine, as authorities desperately seek to re-open the border with mainland at the expense Hong Kong’s international trade ties.

The Executive Council on the same day also decided to deregister the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China from the Company Registry, accusing its goal of “ending one-party dictatorship” of subversive. Lam also could not help pointing fingers at some pro-Beijing lawmakers during an end-of-term banquet at Legislative Council, saying those who once supported an independent inquiry in 2019 should apologise to the police force. Her stance on these issues is a reminder of her dominance and achievements if any, in the hope to seek Central Government’s support for her second term as the chief executive.

It is no secret that the SAR Government was eager to resume quarantine-free travel with the Mainland, even at the expense of Hong Kong's business and commercial relations with the international community.

While many overseas countries have already relaxed their quarantine requirements, Hong Kong has long maintained the stringent three-week quarantine requirement for visitors from the United Kingdom, the United States and many other countries. Government has now tightened the screw by revoking most exemptions to financial, commercial and transport sectors.

In attempting to assure mainland there is no “loopholes” in Hong Kong’s quarantine scheme, which could comply with strategy of “zero Covid” in both places, the move sends the clear signal to multinational corporations that Hong Kong must closely follow the Mainland’s policy. Expatriates could only leave for somewhere else in Asia should they fail to adapt.

As suggested by officials before, any adjustment to contain pandemic should be based on science. What was surprising was the government ignored oppositions from health experts and pressed on with a further 14-day isolation quarantine for patients supposedly recovered and were ready to be discharged. Claiming to prevent “re-positive” cases, which experts already suggested chances are extremely low, government has chosen an almost irrational and illogical move, which may upset citizens but could be welcomed by Beijing.

Similarly, Hong Kong government has required “LeaveHomeSafe” has to be used whenever one enters government premise from 1 November. The tracking via mobile devices is effective in Mainland only because the internet services are state-run and where persons whereabouts could be triangulated without much privacy concerns. This does not apply to Hong Kong, not to mention that it remained highly doubtful if checks on visitors could be carried out at various venues. Vigilent citizens will find ways to circumvent the application that water down the values of these contact tracing. But the degree of nuisance was disproportionate to the utility it provides. Beijing however had no problem with such unpopular bad policy, as Lam resolutely follows the mainland way and pushed for a quasi-surveillance scheme.

There was also no urgency to delist the Alliance’s registration. Under normal Hong Kong legal procedures, the government should have waited until a conviction against the Alliance, which is now charged for inciting subversion. The administration has bypassed the court to ban the Alliance, which throw judges and prosecutors into puzzling situation. Supposed a legal entity is “dead” once it was deregistered, how could a dead person still be charged? Neither the judge nor the prosecutor knew the answer during the hearing. This farce shows that the Chief Executive, out of political reasons, fast-tracked the “killing” of the Alliance to denounce its platform of subversive even before the court comes to a ruling. This removed a bete noire to Beijing and effectively found the call to end one-party dictatorship now a taboo in Hong Kong. In the eyes of Beijing officials, this is likely to be one of the greatest achievements of Carrie Lam’s term in office. Lam's eagerness to establish this achievement at this time is clearly linked to the fact that her first term is about to expire and she is so eager to seek re-election.

Carrie Lam attends the Legislative Council’s farewell banquet on 25 October. CitizenNews photo

We can therefore deduce Lam’s renewed criticisms during Legislative Council’s farewell banquet on some pro-Beijing lawmakers was no slip of tongue. She would probably not forget her profound mistake on the extradition bill has led to calls for independent inquiry in the summer 2019, which was shared by wide spectrums in the community. The community has hoped an inquiry could ease the situation, regain public trust and re-establish order in governance. Ignoring the context, Lam only criticised individual pro-Beijing legislators for not following Beijing’s lead firmly and making claims against the state leaders out of their own will. Her claim is detrimental for the public, even including the “blue-ribbons” who supported the police, and harms the relationship between the executive and the legislature. It only benefited Lam to make her case that she understands and defends the Central Government, and will can command the lawmakers moving forward, which may helped her re-election bid.

However, her political soup opera exposes her to attacks from rivals, including those online influencers who supported CY Leung. They attacked her lack of common sense, tarnishing relationship with Legco, implicating she was not qualified for the top job, or otherwise criticising AO bureaucrat system where Lam has been part of for decades. These infighting in a way showed Beijing may have come to a decision about the next chief executive candidate sooner or later, and careerists all have stepped up their work.