What Did James Tien Say?

The bottom line is not in doubt: James Tien declared yesterday that he will not contest for the position of the Chief Executive.  But some of his other remarks are not consistently reported by the other media.  Back in everybody's mind is the big question: Did the Chinese central government tell him to get lost?

(South China Morning Post)

Mr Tien denied he was being pressured by Beijing to drop out, adding that Mr Tsang had not asked him to do so in exchange for political rewards.  "I only asked [Beijing] whether I should run but they said Donald Tsang was good. They only said they supported Mr Tsang, but have not said whether they want him to be returned uncontested. They didn't encourage me to run, but of course they didn't say I shouldn't," he said.

(The Standard)   Beijing and poll results prompt Tien to drop out.  By Cannix Yau.  April 14, 2005.

Announcing his decision, Tien made it clear he had consulted some Beijing officials about his possible candidacy and got a feeling that the central government will support Acting Chief Executive Donald Tsang.  However, he said the chief reason for his decision not to stand was an internal party poll which showed little support for him in comparison with Tsang, he said.  ...  Tien insisted nobody, including the central leaders, had persuaded him to quit the race.  "I want to know Beijing's view on my candidacy because one needs to obtain Beijing's affirmation to be the chief executive,'' he said.

(Sing Tao)  

Concerning his desire to run in the election, James Tien went to several central government departments to understand, but the feedback was unclear.  He attempted to find out whether the central government wanted only one person to run, but he also did not get a clear answer.  "I felt that they support Donald Tsang, but they did not tell me not to run, or not support anyone else to run, or advise anyone not to run.  That is, they did not say anything to get me not to run."

(Ming Pao)  

Tien voluntarily revealed that he contacted more than one central government official and sought their viewpoints about his candidacy.  "I asked the central government officials if I should participate?  They did not answer me directly.  They just said that Donald Tsang is good and that they support him."  As to whether the central government wants to see more than one candidate, James Tien said: "I attempted to get an understanding from them, but I did not get a clear answer.  They did not say they hope that Donald Tsang would get an automatic term or that someone else might participate.  And they did not say whether James Tien should participate or not."

(Oriental Daily)

James Tien sought feedback from more than one central government official on "Should I participate in the election for the Chief Executive?"  The response was unclear, being neither good nor bad, and there was no attempt to persuade him to back off.  They only said that Donald Tsang is good and they support him." They did not say that they want Donald Tsang to be elected automatically, or that they prefer someone to participate in the election.

But just remember that the overriding factor in James Tien's decision was this: (SCMP)  But Mr Tien said public opinion was the key to his decision. The party study, conducted in the past two weeks and which polled 6,167 people, showed only 5.8 per cent wanted Mr Tien to become chief executive, while 60 per cent favoured Mr Tsang.  "With a 10-1 popularity ratio, how can I convince Election Committee members to support me?" Mr Tien said.

The sad part about this poll is that the Liberal Party paid for it, but they did not bother to ask the reasons behind those responses.  So James Tien doesn't even know why people feel that way about him.

The central government officials must be aware of the popular opinion at this time, and they would have been fools to tell James Tien anything that may be construed to be interference.  James Tien should know better from his numbers, and they have been consistently so in various surveys.

There is one declared candidate in the field: Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat.  If James Tien withdrew because he was outgunned 60%-to-6% in a public opinion poll, what are Lee Wing-tat's numbers?.  In this poll by the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at Chinese University of Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago, Lee Wing-tat had a statistical zero compared to Donald Tsang's 71%  (note: James Tien had 0.6%).  It is likely that the same magnitude of disparity will be present.

What is Lee Wing-tat rationale for participation?  He is not the people's choice.  If he can't rustle up the 100 votes (=12.5% of the Election Commission votes) for a nomination, then the Election Commission process is just reflecting the popular will and so this will not be the proof of the absurdity of the "small circle" election system.