Candidates should just get on with it

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am


The choice of a new leader for Hong Kong is a serious matter. Our city faces many challenges and the way in which they are dealt with will depend largely on who we have at the helm. So it is disappointing to see the leading candidates edging so slowly towards a formal declaration that they will stand.

Election strategy, funding limits, and concerns about falling foul of other election laws appear to be contributing to their reluctance to make a formal declaration. If that is the problem, we need to review the procedures because the credibility of the candidates is being undermined. For weeks now, ex-chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and former Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying have been behaving like election candidates, discussing matters of public concern and reaching out to the community. Yet they have still not formally declared their candidacy.

After six months of confusing comments, former Legco president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, 66, cited her age and lack of family support as reasons for pulling out. Her decision could have cleared the stage for an early announcement from Leung or Tang. However, the duo, instead of declaring their bid right away, announced only that they would do so by the end of the month. Meanwhile, minister-turned-legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee says she is still considering, while Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan is struggling for sufficient nominations to stand even though he was the first to confirm his intention.

There are different theories as to why the candidates have adopted such an approach. They are enjoying the best of both worlds in that a non-committal position gives them the excuse to dodge sensitive questions regarding their campaigns, while enabling them to continue to attract publicity in the meantime. Others attribute the apparent indecisiveness to Beijing not yet having a preferred candidate.

Another relevant point is perhaps the electoral rules. The hopefuls may want to play safe by waiting until the guidelines setting out the do's and don'ts have been promulgated. The relatively low HK$13 million ceiling on campaign expenses has been cited as another reason. There is a theory that by delaying a declaration, expenses incurred earlier can escape the cap. But the rules state clearly that expenses 'before, during or after' an election for the purpose of promoting one's campaign have to be accounted for. Whatever the reasons, the sooner candidates declare so we can get on with discussing their platforms, the better. The public does not vote in the election, only the 1,200 members of the Election Committee. But public opinion could - and should - have some bearing on the outcome. Candidates should come forward now and produce manifestos with visionary ideas for tackling the challenges that lie ahead.