Anson Chan

Would-be leaders lurking in shadows

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 October, 1996, 12:00am


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There will be more candidates than expected contesting the post of first Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region if all those who have declared their intention to stand manage to find a sufficient number of Selection Committee members to nominate them.

People will naturally want the committee members to take public opinion into consideration when they make their important choice.

For the new government to get off to a good start, it is imperative that it should be led by a Chief Executive who has popular support.

Opinion surveys have been conducted for some time to find out who Hong Kong people will choose to head the first SAR government.

These surveys will no doubt continue and will become more relevant when a final list of candidates emerges. Up to now, however, when asked to choose between prospective candidates, there is little for the public to base their judgment on, apart from the track record of each person in his or her own field.

But it hardly needs pointing out that successful businessmen do not necessarily make good government leaders, and the same goes for judges, senior civil servants and others who only have experience outside politics. The head of the SAR government will often be faced with situations requiring a good sense of political judgment, a lack of which could lead to disastrous results.

At a time when the Diaoyu Islands dispute was the most emotive issue in Hong Kong, Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang had the political obtuseness to call the islands by their Japanese name in front of foreign journalists during her recent trip in Australia.

Although Mrs Chan has never indicated any intention to stand for the post of Chief Executive, opinion polls have consistently shown an overwhelming majority of the population think she is more suitable for the job than all the other hopefuls.

People obviously judge her by her performance as chief of Hong Kong's highly esteemed civil service.

Her latest blunder shows that even a competent civil servant may lack the political sense and sensitivity which are important for someone in a position that frequently requires a prompt response to delicate matters of public concern.

Can we have more confidence in the ability of other likely candidates to deal prudently with sensitive issues? We cannot tell, for all of them have seldom, if ever, been put to the test. None of the personalities who have so far announced their interest in the post are used to airing their views in public on any issue that is the focus of public attention. Some of the prospective candidates may think it is a clever strategy to keep a low profile and remain silent about any public controversy to avoid making mistakes.

But by doing so they cannot win people's confidence either.

The Chief Executive will not be able to lie low from the moment of appointment.

It will be too late if his or her ineptitude is exposed only after taking office and the new chief is faced with situations he or she has never handled before.

The candidates should therefore face the people and prove their capability with positive action instead of hiding from public scrutiny.

Besides disclosing their plans for governing the SAR, they should actively take part in public debates and let people judge their abilities and consider their views.