Leadership hopefuls should avoid taking the populist path

As they reach out for support during the nomination period, they should ditch sectoral platitudes in favour of coherent and well articulated policies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 4:14am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 4:14am

Given the ballot for the chief executive race is confined to just 1,194 people from four sectors subdivided into dozens of subsectors, contestants are inevitably under pressure to make piecemeal promises in return for their nominations and ultimately their votes on March 26. That the winner should preferably be someone popular means there is temptation to appease the public with high-sounding goals and policies.

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But instead of running on populist platforms or turning themselves into a wishing tree loaded with sectoral-based demands, they should try to balance different interests and hammer out directions and policies that suit Hong Kong’s needs. This is what is expected of a leader.

Now that Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has also released part of her campaign platform, the Election Committee and the public are in a better position to judge who would make for a better leader. The former chief secretary pledged to spend more on education, cut taxes for small firms and boost housing supply. She is facing pressure to address other policy areas, such as political reform and welfare protection.

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Unlike Lam, who has not promised any specific numbers in housing supply, her arch-rival John Tsang Chun-wah has come under fire for making unrealistic promises. The former financial chief was forced to clarify that his target of putting 60 per cent of the city’s population in public housing was only a “long-term goal”, after officials queried the figure in light of land supply.

The aspirants should also resist bowing to sectoral interests. During talks with the rural affairs body the Heung Yee Kuk, none of the contestants spoke against the much-criticised small-house policy or the prevalence of illegal structures in village houses. The former gives an indigenous male villager the right to build a three-storey villa; the latter is a challenge for law enforcement. Some aspirants even promised to consider building small houses and government-subsidised Home Ownership Scheme flats together under a so-called mixed-development model. The idea has serious implications. Not only will it affect the interests of those applying for subsidised housing, it effectively entrenches an outdated policy that should have long ago been scrapped.

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The nature of the election means aspirants have to address both the needs of the public and individual subsectors. As they reach out for more support during the nomination period, they should ditch populist and sectoral platitudes in favour of coherent and well articulated policies and measures.