Chief Executive to be

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"John Lee: What do you call the prospective Hong Kong leader who has everything?", by Tim Hamlett, Hong Kong Free Press (5/7/22)

The current status of John Lee Ka-chiu has presented one of those linguistic problems which delight retired sub editors: how do you describe a man who is clearly going to win a predetermined election?

My regular free newspaper tried “chief executive hopeful”, realised that wasn’t really capturing the reality of the situation – “chief executive certainty” would have been more accurate – and retreated the next day to “sole chief executive candidate”

A local columnist offered “chief executive-in-waiting” which captures the “not yet but definitely soon” aspect of the situation, at the risk of making Lee sound like a minor palace official, as in “lady-in-waiting”.

Foreign publications were less inhibited about the manipulations behind the scenes: one offered “the central government’s selection”, but this will hardly do for Hong Kong purposes.

Digging into an online thesaurus provides some suggestions, but they all have problems. The “embryonic chief executive” is too medical. The “chief executive presumptive” (as in, “heir presumptive”) works, but involves confusing readers with an adjective that is for some reason always put after the noun, instead of the usual position in front of it.

The word used in English elections for candidates who do not yet wish to be counted for election expenses purposes is “prospective”, probably a technical leap too far for most of us. The “putative candidate” sounds vaguely Russian.

Well having raised the question I suppose we must offer some sort of answer. Lee is the “future chief executive”. This involves treating the election as a formality, albeit one with a potential price tag of more than HK$300 million. But it is a formality.

Wikipedia calls John Lee Ka-chiu the current Chief Executive-designate of Hong Kong.  Does that work?

In any case, it would appear that John Lee is the "Chief Executive to be".  Such being the case, why go through the pretense of holding an election?

P.S.:  Since I delayed more than two weeks in making this post, by the time I put it up, Chief-Executive-to-Be John Lee Ka-chiu may well already be the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.


Selected readings

(h.t. Don Keyser)


  1. DMcCunney said,

    May 22, 2022 @ 10:38 am

    In a monarchy, John Lee Ka-chiu, would simply be heir to the throne.

    The critical question is how someone *becomes* the heir. In a monarchy, it's hereditary.

    In China, succession is more complex. An election is simply a public validation of a selection already made. (Yes, it's window dressing, but the proper window dressing is an important part of the process.)

    The more interesting question is how John Lee Ka-chiu *became* the selection. I suspect there was rough and tumble bare knuckle politics tucked away out of public view in the process. Various factions will strive for dominance, and I suspect the winner will be the candidate least *unacceptable* to all concerned, who can be counted upon to continue existing policies and not rock the boat or upset apple carts. (With the additional qualification of oversight by the PRC in the mainland, trying to eliminate Hong Kong's actual independence)

    Chinese politics remind me a bit of the former state in Mexico, when the PNR was the sole political party. A friend described the setup as "fascism that worked". Aspiring politicians worked to build a constituency and a power base. When they had, then sold out to the PNR. The size of their constituency and strength of their power base determined the position they might be offered in the PNR. A similar dynamic in China would come as no surprise.

  2. Mike D said,

    May 22, 2022 @ 12:38 pm

    Compare, I suppose, the succession to be Lord Mayor of London(the square mile)

    Where, usually, things are clear a full year before the actual election by the aldermen – just keep your eyes on the Sheriff. Of course Covid trumped 'usually ' so Sir William Anthony Bowater Russell got a second term.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    May 22, 2022 @ 1:30 pm

    How about "the Chief Executive apparent" (by analogy with an heir apparent) ?

  4. Philip Anderson said,

    May 22, 2022 @ 5:36 pm

    There is a subtle difference between an heir apparent, who merely has to live long enough, and an heir presumptive, who could be displaced by the birth of a closer heir.

    So is he Chief Executive Apparent or presumptive? Probably the latter, if he could fall from grace and be replaced, even at this late stage?

  5. Andreas Johansson said,

    May 23, 2022 @ 1:44 am

    Unless I'm much mistaken, a lady-in-waiting doesn't "wait" in the sense of twiddling her thumbs until something happens, but in that of serving someone (like a waiter or waitress). So a "chief executive-in-waiting" (that hyphenation looks wrong) would presumably be serving the people or something rather than awaiting his inevitable election.

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    May 24, 2022 @ 5:00 am

    I think that a lady-in-waiting, does, in fact, "wait" (in the sense of twiddling her thumbs) — she "waits" for an instruction from Her Gracious Majesty, which she then performs with alacrity and diligence. Of course, in the absence of an explicit instruction to the contrary, she obeys the default instruction of "perform your normal duties, of which you were informed at the time of your appointment, as amended by any more recent instruction".

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