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Election ‘fever’ gives way to festive feeling

Hong Kong, 21 September 2021: In contrast to Hong Kong’s delayed election results (discussed in a moment), this week’s blog appears early and with good reason: tonight marks the Mid-Autumn Festival and tomorrow is a public holiday. Falling on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, the Mid-Autumn Festival is when our city is adorned with lanterns – hence the main illustration featuring grandson Nathan in picturesque Lee Tung Avenue, near our office – and families gather well into the evening to eat together and admire what is believed to be the fullest moon of the year. Before rushing off to celebrate with the Cohen clan, I will use this opportunity, speaking on behalf of my colleagues at BC&C, to wish you all the best on this auspicious day in the calendar.

We head into the holiday on the back of landmark polls two days ago – to choose members of this city’s all-powerful Election Committee – the first since Beijing’s recent overhaul of our electoral system designed to ensure only “patriots” govern Hong Kong. More than 75% of the committee’s 1,500 seats were already filled uncontested, so 364 seats were decided by just 4,380 voters at five polling stations. Small numbers, easily managed, surely?

Cue red faces as delays in the delivery of ballot boxes and vote counting meant it took a full 14 hours to announce all the results. Electoral Affairs Commission Chairman Barnabas Fung Wah cut an unhappy figure when he addressed the media, explaining there had been glitches in an electronic system being used for the first time. “The counting staff lacked flexibility and could not respond promptly and seek assistance when facing problems,” he admitted, while promising a thorough investigation.

As the results slowly rolled in, there was a surprise. Tik Chi-yuen, one of only two opposition-leaning candidates taking part, was elected by the skin of his teeth and pledged to “represent how some Hongkongers think deep down”. Naturally, his success was seized upon by pro-establishment figures as demonstrating the validity of the polls. “It shows that your political affiliation won’t guarantee you victory, or that you must be rejected,” insisted Tam Yiu-chung, this city’s sole delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

One interested spectator will have been Carrie Lam. After all, among its many powers, the Election Committee will select our next Chief Executive, although she has yet to say whether she will seek a second term and Beijing has given no indication of backing her. Even so, she was handed a to-do list in a high-profile meeting with Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng in Shenzhen on Saturday: keep Covid-19 under control, ensure the three elections – for Election Committee, Legislative Council (in December) and Chief Executive (in March) – run smoothly, and plan for the city’s long-term success, such as seizing opportunities in the Greater Bay Area.

On this latter point, Carrie is well ahead of the curve. The GBA is President Xi Jinping’s vision for a high-tech megalopolis and global innovation hub spanning Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province. The region has a population in excess of 72 million and a GDP of US$1.7 trillion. Carrie certainly talked it up in her policy address last November, unveiling a raft of initiatives geared towards the GBA, including the much-trumpeted Youth Employment Scheme, which provides subsidies for enterprises which employ Hong Kong graduates to work there. Such was her zeal for business potential north of the border, opponents accused her of putting China’s economy ahead of the needs of Hongkongers. One wag dubbed her address the Greater Bay Area Report.

Undeterred, our Chief Executive ploughs on. Next month, she is expected to announce the construction of a rail link costing billions of dollars connecting the northern New Territories with Shenzhen’s burgeoning Qianhai economic zone, home to thousands of Hong Kong-invested companies. Two weeks ago, Beijing revealed a planned eightfold expansion of Qianhai to 120 sq km with the aim of offering a “wider stage” for our city to grow its economy. The proposed rail link, likely to take a decade in planning and construction, will offer a 30-minute commute from Hung Shui Kiu this side of the border to the new business hub.

You would assume the border will be open by then, although Health Secretary Sophia Chan offered little room for optimism to a sceptical Bloomberg reporter yesterday. Asked if the government would rethink its zero-Covid policy, she replied: “We are now in a position where our vaccination rate is only 65%. When our vaccination rate hits 80% to 90%, then we are in a better position to see how we can sort of adjust our overall strategy.” Sigh.

With the Election Committee polls done and dusted, attention turns to the Legislative Council elections when citizens such as I will have our say. Politics aside, any candidate able to express a clear, coherent and transparent Covid-19 exit strategy for this city – complete with specific goals and target dates – will get my vote.  

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins

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