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Kung fu master Checkley Sin Kwok-lam has emerged as a surprise potential contender – and the only one so far – in Hong Kong’s leadership race in March, after declaring on YouTube his confidence in winning the top job and vowing to “serve without caring about personal gains”.
While some observers said it was difficult to take the election bid of Sin seriously until he had bagged enough nominations to enter the race, a number of pro-establishment figures cautioned against entirely dismissing the political novice.
Formerly the managing director of Wing Hang Credit and a protégé of the son of martial arts legend Ip Man, the 64-year-old film producer, who in recent years gained traction among pro-Beijing circles for his online channel, on Wednesday became the first person to throw his hat into the ring for the coming chief executive election.
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A veteran from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called Sin’s bid “funny”, casting doubt on his chance of securing the required 188 nominations from the 1,448-strong Election Committee packed with Beijing loyalists.
“He has only gained fame over the past two years through his YouTube channel. I do not think he has the ability to unite society and balance the interests of different sectors,” the source said.
He pointed to the fact that even a strong contender such as New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a minister-turned-lawmaker, was forced to withdraw from the leadership race not once, but twice, after failing to secure enough nominations in 2012 and 2017.
“If we are only given two choices, Ip and Sin, how on Earth would we nominate the latter who has no track record at all?”
Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, also said he would only give weight to aspirants who managed to garner enough nominations.
It was “fairly easy” for people to announce their intention to run, he pointed out, a move which would bring quick fame “without any advertising cost”.
But at least two sources from the pro-establishment bloc argued that it was too early to dismiss Sin, whom they believed might have received “certain messages” from Beijing.
A legislator argued that as a weak contender, Sin’s participation was actually less detrimental to the camp’s unity compared with a race between incumbent chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Ip.
Both Lam and Ip have remained tight-lipped about their ambitions, much like other tipped hopefuls such as Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, with the election just two months away, on March 27.
The 2012 leadership race caused deep fissures within the pro-establishment camp when former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen ran against then Exco convenor Leung Chun-ying. Underdog Leung eventually won the race after Tang was plagued by a series of scandals surrounding his extramarital affairs and an illegally built basement at his house.
A similar divide occurred in 2017, when two senior officials at the time, chief secretary Lam and financial chief John Tsang Chun-wah, vied for the top job.
“If it is a race between Sin and Lam, there will be some kind of competition, but no division,” the lawmaker said.
Another legislator, from the Business and Professionals Alliance, also said Sin’s announcement was not as big a surprise to some.
“We’d heard about it half a year ago, many in the business sector also knew this,” the politician claimed.
A veteran pro-Beijing politician, who declined to be named, said Sin might have Beijing’s blessing to be a candidate in a contested election.
“He has some connection with Beijing because of his filmmaking business. He may be able to win the required 188 nominations to enter the race,” the pro-establishment member said.
The politician, who is a Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said Sin had a relatively decent image and his YouTube channel, on which he often criticised the government and the West, had more than 150,000 subscribers.
Regina Ip, who also sits on the Executive Council which advises the city’s leader, said she had no comment on Sin’s bid.
Ray Yep Kin-man, a political scientist at City University, said there had always been weak aspirants who attempted to contest in chief executive elections since the handover.
“I think Beijing wants competition in the coming chief executive election but Sin may not have the sufficient credibility in public service to qualify as a genuine competitor,” Yep said.
But he warned that there was a risk some Election Committee members might put their own or sectoral interests above the central government’s. “Beijing may not have everything under full control in the race,” Yep said.
In the 2007 and 2012 leadership polls, the city’s opposition bloc fielded its own representatives, Civic Party chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit and Democratic Party veteran Albert Ho Chun-yan respectively, in a bid to highlight their agenda on the city’s democratic progress to the top election.
In 2017, the camp, which still had influential power in the Election Committee, decided to nominate retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who shared a similar view with them on safeguarding local freedoms.
But such scenarios seem unlikely this year, following Beijing’s “patriots-only” overhaul of the city’s electoral system, which has wiped out the opposition camp’s presence in the powerful committee.
In previous elections, a number of less politically well-known figures had also announced their bids for candidacy. They included former science professor Yu Wing-yin and barrister Albert Leung Sze-ho, in the 2017 poll. None managed to secure an entry ticket.
This year’s race has already got off to a late start, but observers said Sin’s participation was unlikely to draw out the main players – just yet.
“The real candidates will only signal their intention after securing blessings from Beijing. That is the only thing that matters to them,” Lau Siu-kai said.
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