Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing. Photo: AFP/ Philippe Lopez
Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing. Photo: AFP/ Philippe Lopez

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing will not seek to serve again on the 1,500-member Election Committee empowered to choose the city’s next chief executive in March 2022, according to media reports.

Li, a senior advisor to CK Asset Holdings Limited and CK Hutchison Holdings and known for his outsized political influence, is one of Hong Kong’s richest and storied tycoons. The 93-year-old businessman had said back in 2018 that he would focus on “charity” upon his retirement.

His influence could be carried over through his two sons and other top Hong Kong tycoons who have said they will join the Election Committee elections, which will take place on September 19 – although their voices will be diluted after Beijing added 300 new seats to the committee in March, a move that aimed to rebalance the vote in its preferred direction.

Since the 1997 handover from the United Kingdom to mainland China, Li has had a strong say in choosing Hong Kong’s top leader as he and several big business families plus other local business groups controlled about a fifth of the votes in the Election Committee.

In 2012, the situation started to change as former chief secretary Henry Tang, who was supported by Li, narrowly fell to rival Leung Chun-ying at that year’s chief executive election.

Before the election, Tang, whose late father Tang Hsiang Chien was a close friend of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, was hit by an illegal construction scandal at his luxury home in Hong Kong.

The tide started to turn more broadly on Li in 2015, when the Outlook Weekly magazine affiliated with China’s official Xinhua News Agency published an article entitled “Don’t let Li Ka-shing run away.” It noted Li’s companies had sold many assets, mainly commercial properties, in the mainland and turned to invest in Europe instead since 2013.

Li Ka-shing in contemplative repose. Photo: Xinhua

The article said Li, who made a huge fortune in Hong Kong under Beijing’s political support, should stay in the city to help improve the livelihoods of the underprivileged, stabilize investors’ confidence and contribute to social charity.

CK Hutchison Holdings said at that time that the company did not withdraw its investments from the mainland. It said its transactions were normal commercial activities.

But, on August 11, 2016, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, Li’s elder son and the current chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings, told analysts in a closed-door meeting that all the company’s assets, except the Cheung Kong Center, were available for sale. His speech was widely reported by Hong Kong media.

In March 2017, former chief secretary Carrie Lam won the chief executive election to become Hong Kong’s top leader with 777 out of 1,200 votes. Before the election, Li said he would vote for a candidate trusted by Beijing.

John Tsang, a former financial secretary, received only 365 votes, which were mainly contributed by the pro-democracy camp and dozens of local business people including former lawmaker James Tien.

After its landslide success in the District Council elections in November 2019, the pro-democracy camp had controlled more than 450 seats in the then-1,200-member Election Committee. That meant the 100 votes from Hong Kong’s business community would likely be decisive in the 2022 chief executive election.

In March this year, however, Beijing changed the rules by adding 300 seats to the committee and setting up a Candidate Eligibility Review Committee to screen all candidates for the coming elections. Most democrats have shown no interest in joining the Election Committee and LegCo elections.

At 5pm on Thursday, the deadline for nominations for the Election Committee elections ended. Originally, 982 of the 1,500 seats on the body were designated to be returned through elections, with the rest to be filled either automatically or through nominations.

However, not many elections will be needed as the number of applications is the same as the number of places available in many subsectors.

Those who make it on to the committee will not only choose Hong Kong’s next chief executive in March 2022, but will also pick 40 of the 90 Legco members to be selected this December. Twelve seats in LegCo will come from direct elections while 30 will come from functional constituencies.

Empty chairs at the Legislative Council complex in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP / Vernon Yuen / NurPhoto

Tian Feilong, an associate professor at Beijing’s Beihang University Law School and director of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, criticized the opposition camp in a Ming Pao article on Wednesday (August 11) for refusing to join the coming Legislative Council (LegCo) elections to create the illusion that “Hong Kong’s democracy is dead.”

Tian said moderate members of the opposition camp were allowed by Beijing to join the LegCo elections in December, but most of them were not cooperative and tried to boycott the elections.

Tian also said it was politically challenging to transform these people into a “loyal opposition camp” as they had “disloyal genes,” colonial mindsets and anti-mainland sentiments. He said Hong Kong people should learn to recognize, participate in and protect the new election systems, instead of adopting a “burn with us” strategy.

While some YouTubers speculated that Tian was attacking Li, the Beijing professor made it clear in his article that he was slamming the Democratic Party’s vice-chairperson Lee Wing-tat for deciding to flee Hong Kong rather than reform the party.

An internal conflict broke out recently in the Democratic Party after several young members showed interest to join the coming LegCo elections. On August 6, Lee, who disagreed with the idea, departed Hong Kong for the United Kingdom.

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