It's getting sillier by the day. Just eight months remain before 1,200 privileged voters select our next chief executive, but we still don't have any declared candidates. Will Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai run? We don't know. What about Leung Chun-ying? Or Henry Tang Ying-yen? Again, we don't know. They won't say they will run, nor will they say they won't. But they're the only likely candidates we have. What do they stand for? Do they even know how to govern? We don't know.
There's so much we want to know, and so little time to know it. But the three act as if we have all the time in the world to prove their leadership qualities. They play mind games with us instead. Fan, the retired Legislative Council president, says she may run. Or she may not. Leung, the Executive Council convenor, walks and talks as if he'll run but won't take the plunge. Tang, the chief secretary, just flashes his customary smile whenever he's asked if he will run and replies: 'I'll get the job done.'
That's how silly it's become. Fan made it sillier still by saying she lacks the economic know-how to run Asia's economic and financial hub but she'll do homework with the help of experts. Days later she confessed she lacks administrative skills, too. What if she runs and wins and we suddenly face a financial meltdown as happened days after Tung Chee-hwa became chief executive? People will lose jobs, businesses will go bankrupt, poverty will rise, and the property market will crash.
Will she have crammed enough economic and administrative smarts into her head to make the tough calls? Sure, she could delegate, but no subordinate would want to take the blame for calling the wrong shot. Leung acts as if he knows how to call the shots. He's been in campaign mode for months, casting himself as a populist by sniping at the government policies he helped frame - all from the safety of an undeclared candidate. Tang just smiles with sealed lips, letting his surrogates do the talking.
Adding to this silliness is Wang Guangya - the mainland official overseeing Hong Kong affairs - who says the next chief must be capable, popular and patriotic. But isn't that stating the obvious? Besides, how do you define patriotism - speaking up for democratic changes or not speaking up?
Fan is by far the more popular, but even then polls regularly show only about 30 per cent support her. People still remember her for having been a good referee as Legco president. But we need a good leader, not a good referee. Leung continues to languish at the bottom. The positive poll numbers for all three don't even add up to 50 per cent - hardly a vote of public confidence.
The silliest of all are rules set by the Electoral Affairs Commission. Fan, Leung, and Tang could start campaigning today by telling us what they stand for and what qualifies them as chief executive. That will give the people more time to judge who can best lead us. But election rules discourage giving the public more time to judge the candidates. Once candidates say they'll run, every campaign cent they spend will be counted. And rules say they can spend only a fixed amount. That's why candidates don't declare early. Such rules are more than silly - they're stupid.
Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster. firstname.lastname@example.org