Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing attends a news conference to announce he'll run for chief executive, the city's top post, in Hong Kong, China, October 27, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Bobby Yip

Retired Hong Kong High Court judge Woo Kwok-hing declared his intention in running for the 2017 chief executive election on Thursday afternoon as the incumbent Leung Chun-ying has divided the city.

“I do not think Mr C.Y. Leung has been able to address public grievances and halt the division of our society to ensure that Hong Kong’s best overall interests are served,” Woo said at a press conference that lasted one-and-a-half-hours. “I’m standing in the election as I’m not satisfied with the status quo.”

Woo described himself as “impartial”, given his 46 years of experience in the judiciary and nine years as chairman of the apolitical Electoral Affairs Commission.

The retired judge regarded the future of political reform as “the most pressing problem” and wishes to relaunch the process, if he wins majority support from the 1,200-strong election committee.

“If we cannot solve the problem, the city will come to a stalemate,” he added.

Woo is the first in Hong Kong to formally announce that he would participate in the chief executive election set for March 2017.

Incumbent Leung, meanwhile, has not publicly declared his intention to seek re-election.

“I feel Hong Kong as a community has become too polarised and fragmented,” Woo said, and believed his “impartiality is conducive to communication” and “reaching consensus” among different interest groups.

“Who will be more impartial than me? I can’t see any,” Woo said.

Woo said he only announced his participation today as he was discharged from his role as judge in the High Court last Tuesday and so far has received “no response” from the central government regarding his decision to run in the race.

Consultation, communication and consensus

The retired judge believes that it is important for different party to talk and communicate in a fragmented society.

Seeing the discussion of Hong Kong independence as a potential of a violation of the city’s Basic Law, which enshrines Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” arrangement, Woo said he would “really want to meet the proposer” and try to “listen and understand”.

On controversial social issues, Woo thinks “consultation and communication” are important in forging consensus among different interest groups, including the legislation of Article 23 that prohibits the act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government.

I feel Hong Kong as a community has become too polarised and fragmented … [my] impartiality is conducive to communication

In 2003, the proposed introduction of Article 23, drew an angry public response with 500,000 people joining the annual July 1 march through the streets of Hong Kong.

The government abandoned its plans to introduce the law that many people felt would be used to infringe on freedom of speech. “If we do not legislate it, the result could be even worse,” Woo said, citing a possible introduction of the stricter National Security Law implemented in China.

“Anyone But CY”

Woo’s confirmation that he will run in the chief executive election gives people in the movement known as “Anyone But CY” (ABC) hope that the incumbent is unlikely to be re-elected.

Though Woo said it was too early to talk about the ABC movement, pro-democracy Civic Party legislator Dennis Kwok Wing-hang told RTHK on Wednesday that “anyone would be a better choice than the incumbent.”

Leung’s popularity has tumbled since he took office in March 2012 over his handling of several issues, particularly the 79-day pro-democracy street protests during the Occupy movement in September 2014.

The use of tear gas and police batons on protesters angered Hong Kong people, many of whom have since called on Leung to resign.

Being the man at the helm when China finally issued its ruling on exactly how Hong Kong should elect future leaders was never going to be easy and supporters of the embattled leader say he is an able politician and should resist calls to step down.

But his tenure has constantly been dogged by accusations that he is too close to the mainland leadership and is frequently accused of being a member of the Communist Party of China. Leung has always denied membership.