Wanted: a man for all seasons

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 October, 1996, 12:00am

Public and press attention is transfixed by the race for the chief executive post three days after the end of the application period.

Familiar voices are sounding. They claim haphazard campaigning by the candidates, and the perception that the choice is pre-ordained by China and the lack of firm rules on appointments to the Selection Committee may taint the whole process and return to haunt the Special Administrative Region.

A minority is out to discredit the chief executive, whoever he may be, in the name of universal suffrage. A few are just plain spiteful.

This scramble for the top job is not what the ascendancy of the chief executive was meant to be when the Joint Declaration was signed.

Back then both China and Britain envisaged credible chief executive candidates being identified early, mutually agreed upon and then groomed in the Executive Council where they would learn both the reach and limitations of power.

The sovereign powers also felt that the time needed to train the chief executive would also be a prolonged education for the public, who would adjust to their leader and vest in him their hopes and aspirations, if not also affection.

This sensible chief executive and public courtship arrangement was shed when, in 1992, China and Britain wrangled over electoral reforms and could no longer find grounds for co-operation.

The consequence is that China would not consult the British but instead chose to rely on individuals of ambition and merit to emerge of their own free will, woo the public and, through this, influence the Selection Committee.

As imperfect, even flawed, as the practice may be, it has nevertheless spurred several candidates of some international stature and record of success to run.

So far everyone in the race has appealed for non-partisanship, for the return to a common cause and for a unity of purpose. If the tone of their manifestoes and statements to the media were decidedly cautious (or conservative), it is because the SAR craves stability.

The challenge is whether the community can restore its former consensus even at the urging of the chief executive, who must be seen to be less partial to the sovereign power than colonial governors ever had to be.

The chief executive has to impress on his constituents that, one, he is not beholden to China; two, he is true to the letter and the spirit of autonomy for Hong Kong; three, he is not biased either against big business or the democrats; four, he presides over the civil service without undermining its morale with excessive, stifling control; five, he has the interests of the whole society as his lode star.

This person must also possess conflicting, sometimes seemingly contradictory, attributes. He has to be decisive and yet not dictatorial. He has to be heart and soul for the ordinary people and yet be attuned to the demands of commerce and prudent finance.

He is simply the man for all seasons and for everyone, a seer, a prophet, a commander whose wisdom, like his integrity, is beyond reproach.

Ihave never doubted that Hong Kong has its home-grown leaders who earlier could not strive for the highest office because they were not of the ruling nationality.

We have waited for generations to have the right climate to awaken from our enforced leadership hibernation.

I am confident that our candidates are up to scratch and are responsive to the people, which is why they have been baring their thoughts to us through the press and regular meetings.

This improvement is an aspect of democracy at work and of 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong' made possible by the sovereignty change.