A campaign to test Tsang's wisdom
As expected, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has resigned from his post as chief secretary in preparation for taking part in the chief executive by-election.
Although Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat and pro-Beijing maverick legislator Chim Pui-chung have both declared an intention to run, they are unlikely to secure the necessary 100 nominations from the Election Committee, leaving Mr Tsang the sole contender.
Despite the election's 'small-circle' nature, the mass media and community groups are seeking to treat this election as if it were a fully democratic one. Mr Tsang himself also declared he would engage the 6 million-plus Hong Kong people, not just the 800 Election Committee members.
How he conducts his campaign, and how various social sectors will engage him in public debates on the future of government, will transform the essence of the election.
In 2002, when Tung Chee-hwa ran for his second term as chief executive as the sole candidate, instead of going to the people through rallies and by walking the streets, he stayed at his campaign headquarters to receive delegations of sub-sector Election Committee members.
He also turned down an invitation by some Election Committee members to attend a public forum to debate his election platform. As a result, Mr Tung was elected with more than 700 nominations, but he failed to secure enough legitimacy to govern effectively.
Mr Tung's bitter lesson should be learned carefully. Even as the sole candidate, Mr Tsang should still make sure that he runs his campaign as a direct election.
Apart from producing a proper election platform, making clear his governing vision for Hong Kong and outlining his principal policy directions, he should also go out of his way to meet ordinary people, and attend forums and meetings organised by various sectors, unions and professional bodies.
Electing a government is not only about choosing the leader, but also endorsing a particular approach to governance and policy-making. Candidates should find out what various stakeholders want and care about, and what policy responses are demanded and will be accepted. Finding out the problems and solutions is part and parcel of any campaign process.
Paraphrasing the British Conservative Party's recent campaign slogan, people should be asking candidates: 'Are you thinking what we are thinking?'
Some may argue this by-election only chooses a chief executive to serve out the remainder of Mr Tung's term. Besides, Mr Tsang will have to inherit both the latter's ministerial team and policy legacy.
However, precisely because there is limited room for him to demonstrate he has a fresh administration that can bring new hopes and expectations, and thus political support, Mr Tsang must rely on a change of leadership style.
He can do that by turning his campaign into a rebranding exercise. In contrast to Mr Tung who shied away from meeting the masses, Mr Tsang should make himself available to all kinds of encounters with people from all walks of life within the next few weeks, impressing them as 'the people's leader'.
He should have nothing to worry about regarding contenders like Mr Lee and Mr Chim. Indeed, if he has enough self-confidence, he should actively take on their challenge by outwitting them in public debates, to show to the people that he knows more about the affairs of government, and has better oratory and communication skills, and thus merits the top job.
How Mr Tsang conducts his campaign will tell us much about his political wisdom and his commitment to the people.
Anthony Cheung Bing-leung is a professor of public administration at City University of Hong Kong and chairman of SynergyNet, a policy think-tank