Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

... but falls short on the prescription for a cure

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 January, 2010, 12:00am

Raising questions about Hong Kong's future, though, is only the beginning. That is the easy part. More difficult, is finding the answers. In this respect, Leung still has a long way to go. He is right to highlight the need for Hong Kong to have more of a presence on the mainland and to be better able to lobby for our city's best interests. But it is not clear how he would go about it, given concerns often expressed about such steps undermining the city's high degree of autonomy.

Then there is the question of housing. In blaming long-standing land and housing policies for the unaffordability of 'painfully small' flats to a large number of families, he says that fixing them is one of the main challenges facing Hong Kong. But his article gives no clue as to how he would reconcile the interests of the 'alienated' majority, home-owners who have a stake in rising prices, and property developers who have profited from the policies.

His sentiments will resonate widely, but the city also has unhappy memories of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's ill-fated scheme to enable lower-income families to buy their own homes by building thousands of more affordable flats. Amid an economic downturn, the plan disrupted the market and undermined the interests of the property-owning middle class. The disastrous outcome of Tung's plan underlined the importance of consistency and certainty of housing policy.

Then there is universal suffrage. Leung gingerly sidestepped this key issue in his article, a glaring omission. He did acknowledge that the political process was dysfunctional. We would like to think that he meant that an administration with a mandate would have governed better. Worryingly, however, he says legislators have been allowed to get in the way of direct engagement of the government with the people. This is an odd way of looking at their role. They are, after all, the elected representatives of the people.

He will need to answer these questions if he is to stand for chief executive. What, for example, is Leung's plan for universal suffrage? As this involves the ability of committed citizens to elect the leader of their choice, his fudging of the issue perhaps gives the game away.