Election hopefuls must find the common touch

The inability to buy toilet paper or identify with the middle class may appear amusing, but it’s no laughing matter for ordinary people

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 3:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 3:15am

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying once said that standing for election was an exercise in humility. Summing up his electoral experience in a speech five years ago, he said the process of reaching out to seven million people had made him more aware of his inadequacies. We trust it will not take too long for Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and other aspirants for the top job to realise that, too. From using an Octopus card to buying a roll of toilet paper late at night, the former chief secretary has found herself on a steep learning curve.

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The front runner in the chief executive race said she was still struggling to adapt to a new life, recalling how she rushed back to her former official residence in the Mid-Levels in a taxi after failing to find toilet paper at a convenience store near a serviced apartment where she now lives. She also appeared to be unfamiliar with how to use her Octopus card during a walkabout in Southern District.

The former government No 2 probably had most of her daily errands taken care of by her staff in recent years. It nonetheless cuts a sorry figure when someone as senior and competent as Lam cannot even manage the simple daily routines of ordinary people. The embarrassing anecdotes, reported by local and overseas media, inevitably gives the impression that she is out of touch with the masses.

Her arch election rival, John Tsang Chun-wah, appears to have made a better start, at least in terms of public relations. While his manifesto struck a chord with many people dissatisfied with the status quo, the former financial secretary rose up the ranks in the same government system. He stirred controversy six years ago when he dismissed the question of a radio caller who found him detached from the people.

He was asked whether he knew the price of a common local dish – grouper in corn sauce. He replied that he did not care for grouper or corn. He came under fire again two years later when fending off criticism that he did not understand the middle class. He said they were people who drank coffee or watched French films, and by that definition, he also belonged to the middle class.

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The contestants will no doubt be subject to closer scrutiny by the media and public in the run-up to the election in March. They have to prove that they are not removed from the realities of everyday life. It is essential for them to go beyond the 1,194-member Election Committee for support and show that they are connected to the people. They must come up with policies and solutions that address the needs of the common folk.