Hong Kong chief executive candidates must all be given a fair chance

Ho Lok Sang urges the Election Committee to ensure all hopefuls are able to present and debate their platforms, so its members can cast informed votes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2017, 11:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 January, 2017, 6:56pm

The chief executive race should be seen as fair, despite the limiting fact that it is a “small circle election” involving a committee of 1,194 members.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, Basic Law Committee vice-chair and former Hong Kong justice secretary, said there were “too many candidates” and advised them to consider their chances before joining the race. She then went on to praise Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who quit her post as chief secretary to run for the top job, as someone “who works with her heart” and is “willing to listen”. Leung also said she did not know much about rival candidate and ex-finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah, other than his being “familiar with government operations”.

Soon after, outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying praised Lam as “a responsible and competent official willing to tackle difficult and controversial issues facing Hong Kong society”. These messages clearly indicate that Lam is Beijing’s favoured candidate.

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Rival hopeful Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who stepped down as security secretary in 2003 after some 500,000 people protested against her support for the Article 23 National Security Bill, held back tears as she asserted: “No one could say I was unwilling to tackle difficult and controversial issues.”

Though humbled by the massive protest, she lamented at the time that critics of the anti-subversion law did not actually look at it. Last week, Ip admitted that some of those who had indicated a willingness to nominate her had withdrawn their pledge. There is now a risk that she may not even get the 150 nominating votes to enter the race.

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I would urge Election Committee members to give a fair chance to every worthy candidate. They should cast their votes independently, based on their own judgment. This is both important and necessary, if the process is to have any credibility.

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As for the narrative that the election risks being aborted if no one gets more than 600 votes in the first round and the impasse continues in round two – this is just not credible. If no one gets more than 600 votes in the first round, there will be just two candidates left. This is no different from having just two hopefuls in the first place.

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There is a strong case to allow every worthy candidate who has demonstrated a commitment to serve Hong Kong, and who has a strong record of public service, to enter the race. Let them have an open debate about all the difficult policy issues Hong Kong has to face. This would give Election Committee members a better basis to form their judgment, so they can cast their votes in good conscience.

Anything less would undermine the credibility of the process and be unfair to both the contenders and the Hong Kong public.

Ho Lok Sang is dean of business at Chu Hai College of Higher Education