Public Eye

Innocence lost in the dirty fight to choose Hong Kong’s chief executive

None of the four potential candidates can hope to capture the respect afforded previous leaders, who inhabited more innocent times

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 5:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 5:19pm

So who do you want as your next chief executive? Let’s rephrase that. Who do you think Beijing wants as your next chief executive? The affable, straight-talking but inexperienced retired judge Woo Kwok-hing? Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who gave us food trucks and defined the middle class as people who like coffee and French movies? Legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who mocked Tsang as a failed finance chief? Or Leung Chun-ying, whose polarising trait has overshadowed his achievements as chief executive?

I’ve interviewed all four on television. You can’t help but like Woo. He has a raw innocence the others lack. But is that a political shield or an Achilles heel? Soft-spoken and unassuming, Tsang is the perennial pessimist who doles out one-off sweeteners but stuffs huge surpluses into our overflowing public purse for a rainy day. He can’t see the downpour for the rain.

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Ip is the makeover woman. Reviled for championing Article 23 legislation while security chief and mocked for her hairstyle, she returned from an American sojourn a softer woman more in tune with ordinary people. But is the makeover a mask as many suspect?

Leung’s Achilles heel is not just a single heel but his whole character. Honesty requires acknowledgement that he has achieved much more than his predecessors to improve livelihoods. But he has let his combative character get the better of him, allowing adversaries to define him as Hong Kong’s most loathed leader.

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Hong Kong’s most loved leader, many would say, was governor Chris Patten. But a time gap of over 20 years makes comparisons meaningless. Patten’s colonial Hong Kong was not Leung’s Hong Kong of one country, two systems. We were more innocent then. Perhaps it was good we didn’t get to choose Patten or his predecessors. Maybe we lost our innocence in the fight to get to choose our leader. What if Beijing just sent us a governor? Who knows, maybe we’d go back to the way we were, even rediscover our lost Lion Rock spirit.

But choose we must, through a 1,200-member election committee. The opposition saw to that by torpedoing one person, one vote. Who should we choose? Woo, Tsang, and Ip will likely serve only one term, given their age. Leung will be the only post-handover leader to serve two full terms if re-elected. Maybe that will be his strongest pitch to Beijing, where face is everything.