Hong Kong people should create their own ‘election platform’ for the chief executive race, given that no potential candidate has yet come up with one that offers solutions to the city’s problems
Less than nine months before the election of the next Hong Kong chief executive, this is a strangely quiet time. Sure, there is much talk about which “horses” will be in the running. Yet something is missing. Are we not in the middle of the worst confidence crisis in the establishment – from government to legislature – since the handover? Isn’t the next chief executive meant to lead us out of this mess? Where are the promises? Indeed, where and from whom can we seek such promises?In any other democracy, common people will have been consulted many times over in their constituencies on what they want for the future, when a contest for the top post is so near. Thanks to the distorted system here, all but 1,200 members of the public are disenfranchised in the chief executive election. As a result, potential candidates are more interested in out-doing each other in publicity stunts than offering solutions. If past experience is of any guide, the next chief executive will be able to get away with the slimmest of election platforms. Nobody can hold him or her to any promise.
That is a disaster for Hong Kong since a rare opportunity for soul-searching and consensus-building will have been lost.
Against this background, the Professional Commons, an independent think tank with many Election Committee voters among its members, has come up with a mock chief executive platform. Comprising nearly 100 policy initiatives, the platform is organised under three main sections in correspondence with what Hong Kong needs most at this time: to reconfigure our core values, to expand our economic horizon, and to attain a decent living standard for all.
First, on core values, maintaining the rule of law and safeguarding civic rights are key issues. The recent government initiative to take away by-election rights without public consultation, and Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s disrespectful comments on the court ruling against the government’s non-compliance in environmental assessment procedure for the proposed bridge to Macau and Zhuhai, bode ill for the rule of law. Without the vigilance of civil society, the competitive advantage of Hong Kong as an open and law-abiding international city will be eroded. To arrest such decline, the pursuit of participative democracy and shared governance must be at the top of the next chief executive’s agenda.
In economic matters, while Hong Kong’s growth outlook remains positive, we cannot be complacent with the many unresolved structural problems. Even in areas where Hong Kong excels, there are still areas deserving urgent reform. One example is the setting up of a locally based Asian ratings agency to coincide with the rise of China’s financial clout and the decline in confidence in global agencies. Hong Kong is arguably the only city in China where all the necessary infrastructure – freedom of speech, rule of law and professional expertise – are in place for such a venture to succeed. If successful, this can only boost our status as an international financial centre.
The government’s goal to develop a diversified knowledge-based economy will just be empty talk if our investment in education falls behind our competitors. The arbitrary ceiling of offering subsidised university places to only 18 per cent of our young people, compared with no ceiling at all for countries like Taiwan and South Korea, is one of the many obstacles that the next chief executive must remove.
For a thriving economy like Hong Kong, to witness one-third of its senior citizens and one-quarter of its children living in poverty is simply unsustainable, if not unethical. Our combination of economic growth and “social recession” – the decline in individual well-being and mutual trust – is a dangerous mix. The recent outcry against “property hegemony” is a signal of the rising social discontent. A bolder land policy disentangled from vested interests, a fairer allocation of resources to subsidised housing, a more aggressive investment in the environment to protect public health – these are examples of urgently needed reforms.
This mock chief executive platform is a document for all to build on. The more public debate it generates, the more effective it will be. It can set a benchmark for what Hongkongers expect from their next chief executive when he has no constitutional obligation to answer to any of his citizen’s calls.
Officials in Beijing would have us believe that they call all the shots in deciding who the next chief executive will be. Yet, Hongkongers no longer treat the holder of the post as a ruler at the top, but a mere servant who deserves the kick when he cannot live up to his promises. And the time to thrash out the promises is now.
Albert Lai Kwong Tak (黎廣德)
Chairman of The Professional Commons and Vice-Chairman of Civic Party (公共專業聯盟主席及公民黨副主席)
21 July 2011
The chief executive mock election platform can be downloaded from http://www.procommons.org.hk.