It's the right time to step down, says Allen Lee

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 April, 2007, 12:00am

Allen Lee Peng-fei, one of the few local delegates to the National People's Congress who is a household name in Hong Kong, is getting ready to quit his last formal political position.

But not seeking re-election to the national legislature after being a member for a decade doesn't mean he will entirely vanish from the political scene where he has been dominant for 30 years.

He plans to continue his 10-year fight for a Hong Kong office for the local NPC delegates, and will carry on as a political commentator and talk-show host.

Mr Lee insists it's time to lay to rest suspicions that an office for the delegates would establish another power base in the city. It would not only 'shorten the distance' between the citizens and the delegates and get the delegates exposure, he said, but it could also help them to carry out their duties, such as assisting Hongkongers who had trouble on the mainland.

'At the very beginning, Hong Kong delegates were regarded as pretty sensitive positions,' he said. 'Yet 10 years on, there shouldn't be any more suspicion that opening an office is tantamount to establishing another power base.'

Mr Lee, who will turn 67 this month, began his political career as an appointed Legislative Council member in 1978. Amid heated debates on Hong Kong's future in the 1980s, he led a delegation to Beijing asking the central government to extend Britain's lease.

He served on the Executive Council from 1985 to 1992, and a year later he founded the Liberal Party. Unlike most pro-business politicians, he took the unprecedented step of running for a directly elected Legco seat in 1995 and succeeded.

Yet he failed to gain re-election in 1998 and resigned as the party chairman. In the same year he was elected a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC.

'I decided to stand for the NPC election in 1998 because I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the mainland's political system and the country's development, whether it's on the economic, social and political front,' he said.

Mr Lee said he envisaged heated competition for NPC seats in next year's election, which could include pan-democrats. He hoped those who had 'political abilities', irrespective of backgrounds, could be returned.

He said he felt most satisfied that he had been able to help Hongkongers who sought his assistance.

Although he was discontented with the NPC system that was still far from open, the post had helped him understand much more about the mainland's system and establish communication with Beijing.

Acknowledging the mainland's advancement, he also highlighted its problems, such as corruption and the fact that the legal system is far from 'sound and healthy'.

Mr Lee said that besides the sudden death of former governor Sir Edward Youde in 1986, the million-strong protest march in Hong Kong in support of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square had made the deepest impression on him. 'I had to help handle the situation in the light of the march that saw a million people take to the street,' he said.

Summing up his political career, Mr Lee said: 'I've borne witness to Hong Kong's recent history and I've got much satisfaction from it.

'I've been a politician for 30 years and as I'm getting old, it's time to let the energetic ones take over.'

Does he have any regrets about stepping down? 'Many of my Beijing friends have asked me to re-think my decision,' he said. 'Yet once I've made up my mind, I will stand by it. The most important thing is that you know when you should leave.'