Universal Suffrage

Political talent gap looms at top, warns Hong Kong executive councillor

Influential Exco member says city faces lack of potential chief executive candidates capable of leading it into new era of universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:08pm

Hong Kong urgently needs to groom political talent for the era of universal suffrage, says executive councillor Bernard Chan, as the government, political parties and business will all face succession problems in the next decade.

Despite the heated debate going on over election methods, Chan told the South China Morning Post that he was more worried about who would be capable of assembling a strong team to run for the top job.

It is a pity we have not had the time and resources to groom talent. I'm not worried about the means of electing the chief executive, but about who will run and who the top officials will be

With universal suffrage looming, Chan said, it was necessary to develop a clear career path for those wanting to go into politics.

"It is a question of chicken and egg," he said. "In the past decade, the city spent huge efforts on 'firefighting' [crises]. It is a pity we have not had the time and resources to groom talent.

"I'm not worried about the means of electing the chief executive, but about who will run and who the top officials will be."

Most family businesses, big corporations, non-governmental organisations, the government and political parties would be facing succession problems in 10 years, he said, and there would be fierce rivalry for talent.

Chan, head of his family insurance business, again ruled himself out of the chief executive race in 2017, citing "family concerns", despite the fact he is frequently mentioned as one of the favourites for the job.

"How can we attract talent to take up public office? Are we going to check every bit of their history," he asked.

"To many outsiders, taking up a public post is very difficult because there is no training at all. You are all on your own."

Chan said he received some good training as chairman of Lingnan University council earlier this year, when he was heavily criticised by students over his appointment of Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon as the university's new president.

"I cannot see how someone parachuted in from the outside - no matter how brilliant he is in his field - can do the job [of chief executive]," he said.

"It must be a person familiar with public administration. Bear in mind you also have to co-operate with the civil servants who execute the policies."

In spite of his worries over a possible talent squeeze, Chan, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress, said he would prefer to have democracy sooner rather than later.

"It is now the worst of two worlds," he said.

"People say Hong Kong is not democratic, but we are not authoritarian [in a way that] allows the government to do anything it wants to. For every policy we have to undergo a lengthy process of consultation, which may end up being fruitless."

He said the pan-democrats should also be allowed to enter the race for the top job, and that the central government would have to take some risks.

"Hong Kong cannot afford to have its political system marching on the spot," he said.

"In order to come to a compromise, both the Beijing-loyalist camp and the pan-democrats must be given a fair chance in the race. Otherwise the pan-democrats will not accept it."

He proposed modelling the future nominating committee for chief executive candidates on the existing Election Committee, and broadening its electoral base by reforming the system of corporate voting for its members.