Impossible to govern without the public’s support, Hong Kong chief executive contender John Tsang says

The chief executive hopeful tells how public support could make or break the city’s next leader

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 11:37pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 February, 2017, 9:24am

In a veiled reference to his arch-rival, chief executive contender John Tsang Chun-wah suggested that any candidate who hopes to win without the support of the wider Hong Kong public would end up “not being able to govern”.

The popular underdog in the race suggested that the winner’s legitimacy also rested on their popularity and endorsement from the public, not just the votes of the Election Committee.

The former financial secretary is in a tight race with his ex-colleague Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, whose popularity continues to lag behind Tsang’s. But his competitor has managed to secure the support of pro-establishment voters, which make up two-thirds of the 1,194-member committee.

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Citing overwhelming support from the general public, Tsang yesterday remained confident that he could obtain the 150 nominations required to officially enter the race. He said the HK$4.8 million he raised through a crowdfunding drive and thousands of supportive messages on his Facebook page were evidence of the public’s backing.

The chief executive hopeful said listening to the people was important for good governance.

“It is not universal suffrage yet, but it is important that people in our community feel they have their part, and without their support, one may win the election but not be able to govern,” he said.

“What happens in those five years of governance is a lot more important than winning or losing on election day.”

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He continued on to say that any candidate who only managed to win the support of one sector in the community would not be able to break the stalemate facing Hong Kong.

“If the practice continues… how is that going to change in terms of governance and in terms of the discords we have seen in the past few years?”

If you don’t trust them, why appoint them? And if you appoint them but you still don’t trust them, there must be an issue in your judgment
John Tsang on governing

Lam, the former chief secretary, raised eyebrows earlier this week when she vowed to keep a tight grip on the powers of a financial secretary, and even warned she would fire her future finance chief if he or she was an obstructionist. Her remarks hinted at the frustrations she and her former boss, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying faced while dealing with an unsupportive financial secretary.

“This is not something that I would do,” said Tsang when asked about Lam’s remarks. “I would like someone who could put up good arguments on things that they don’t agree with.”

He also took pains to differentiate his leadership style from that of Lam, who is widely perceived as a hands-on policy wonk.

“It has always been my style – that I rely on my people to do things because … the people you appointed are the people you should trust,” he said.

“If you don’t trust them, why appoint them? And if you appoint them but you still don’t trust them, there must be an issue in your judgment.”

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Asked to compare his policy platform with Lam’s, he said he viewed it as a compliment that his proposals on two-tier profits tax and affordable housing were similar to Lam’s.

Citing the success of his public relations team, Tsang said he would never micro-manage.

“My PR team is much better than any other...Everybody works on their own and they are able to do that because they have the trust that I would support them whatever they do,” he said.

When asked if he would be indebted to the pan-democratic camp, given he looks set to need 100 nominations from them to become a candidate, Tsang said: “I hope they lend me their support [because] they buy platform.”

Tsang said it was important to include everyone across the spectrum in the government’s decision making, but stopped short of promising to invite pan-democrats to his cabinet if elected.

“You have to find the right person. It’s not just because they’re a pan-democratic person that they should have a place,” he said.

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Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, another chief executive hopeful, agreed with Tsang’s remarks, but suggested that one who is popular during campaigning might also end up being exceedingly unpopular in office.

“The key to an effective HKSAR Government lies in the integrity of our leader, his vision and ability to resolve the many problems of our polarised society, which has been caused by the sitting government,” Woo said.

Lam’s campaign office said it was important for the next leader to have a popular mandate in order to effectively govern, and that she had been listening to all sectors in finalising her manifesto.

“Her track record is that she listens, makes hard decisions and acts to introduce appropriate policies in the best interest of the public,” a statement from her office said.

Another contender, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, said while public acceptance and support was important, “good governance requires more than popularity”.

Sound judgment, good administrative skills, leadership, determination to succeed and willingness to tackle deep-rooted problems were also important.