Why I am Standing for Chief Executive
Mr Alan Leong Kah-kit, Member of the Legislative Council, was the Foundation's guest speaker on 21 November 2006. Below is the full text of his speech.
Thank you for the invitation to speak.
Please let me share with you the reason why I am seeking nomination to stand for the Chief Executive Election.
It is quite simple. I cannot accept there will be no competition for the top political post in Hong Kong for the third time in ten years.
Open competition creates a political market place where policies compete, proposals are tested and wider perspectives and better solutions are rewarded. Absence of competition favours the mediocre, the unimaginative, and allows political leaders to become arrogant, complacent, remote and defensive.
You might say ‘I agree'. But, why you?
My answer is straight forward. Indifference won't help Hong Kong. Dysfunctional government, inadequate policies and the repeated disappointment of the community's expectations are striking features of daily life.
We have a government that for too long, has sold our people short, treating Hong Kong as if it were some backward city, too vulnerable or impoverished to dare to think in terms of quality of life.
Our people's aspirations are much higher than that. Political issues have become too important to be ignored. There is important work to be done. This work cannot wait. This is work I can do.
Will I succeed?
Some people say I am bound to get 100 nominations because it cannot be so difficult. Others say I won't make it because it is just too hard.
Why is there such a disparity of views?
This is the time to speak the truth. Getting 100 nominations from the 800-member Election Committee is hard because the system is rigged. It makes it possible for individual electors to be put under intense personal pressures which we do not tolerate in direct elections.
Let's be frank about how legitimate lobbying that has become political extortion under these arrangements is put on Committee Members. Powerful people call you up and ask you to support what we might call the "preferred" candidate. People who can make or break your business or your career.
To say no is seen as an act of disrespect, or worse, as an act of defiance. How many are willing to commit financial or professional suicide?
We also have the other side of the coin. The rich and famous queued-up to be selected as electors. What makes it worth the while of the affluent and already influential to take time off to engage in this political exercise when their personal participation in public life is otherwise almost invisible? Why do they fight for the chance to be seen to be supporting the "preferred" candidate?
If you are in business or if your organisation depends on government funding, even the biggest business wants the insurance of being seen to have supported the right man. Don't forget that Tung Chee Hwa and Donald Tsang both got over 700 nominations in one-horse races.
What can open competition do for Hong Kong?
In a real competition, the candidates will have to make commitments to the community. They will have to demonstrate that they have policies which will solve the community's most pressing problems and convince the public of their ability to govern. The public has the opportunity to watch their manifestoes tested to destruction in public debate and media scrutiny. At the end of the process, the winner has a clear right to rule. He or she was the public's choice to steer Hong Kong's progress for the next five years.
What are the candidates' policies in this election?
Before I come to my ideas, let me say something about Donald Tsang Mr. Tsang has not yet declared his candidacy. Does anyone believe he will not run? Does anyone believe he will not win?
And, what has Mr. Tsang offered Hong Kong?
Mr. Tsang says his governing "concept" is "Strong Government" exercising something he calls "Strong Governance".
What does this mean?
Mr. Tsang says "Strong Governance" means his "faith in a small, but strong and effective government … that can provide effective response at crucial times".
No wonder Mr. Tsang keeps being asked what he truly means.
In fact, Mr. Tsang has merely said he wants government to be effective and preferably "small". This really does not mean much.
His slogans, "Strong Government, Strong Governance" are no substitute for the vision of our future which Hong Kong needs. He has had ample time since his appointment as Chief Executive seventeen months ago to present us with a dazzling picture of where he will lead us.
His last Policy Address was even thinner than his first. Has he run out of ideas? Has he run out of initiatives? Has his long service as a bureaucrat blinded him to the need for political innovation? Or, does he take it for granted it makes no difference what he thinks or says? The goldfish are in no danger of leaving Government House before 2012.
My own vision is very simple. We have to make Hong Kong competitive, free and fair.
Competitive, because we know Hong Kong must compete in the world, and we believe competition makes us stronger.
Free, because we want to continue to enjoy our liberties, and we believe in the free market.
Fair, because we know the market cannot solve all of society's problems. We want a fair society, a decent society that promotes social harmony.
How fair is Hong Kong?
Among developed economies, Hong Kong has the most uneven distribution of income.
Among developed economies, Hong Kong has the most inequitable distribution of political power through functional elections for the Chief Executive and half of the legislature.
I suggest that the two phenomena are not wholly disconnected.
Let me focus on our uneven income distribution first.
Some people say the rich are getting richer and the lives of poor people are also improving. This is a convenient way of ignoring the issue, an excuse for complacency.
The real issue is that there is substantial inequality in our society, and the gap is increasing.
This state of affairs sows the seeds of social disharmony. Worse still, it ruins the lives of the most vulnerable in our society and punishes them for being ill, infirm, elderly, disabled, the children of broken families - in other words, the weakest and most tragic members of our community.
I suspect everyone here today is among the higher income earners in Hong Kong. It is so easy for us to push out of our consciousness the other side of life.
Many of my constituents in Kowloon East belong to Hong Kong's working poor. They are the poorly-educated older workers, the uneducated elderly and the disabled. They do the lowest-skill jobs that earn them about HK$3,000 per month. Our lunch today would cost 10% of their monthly wage.
They are in this state because until the late 1970s, a colonial government refused to introduce free and compulsory secondary education. They face grim retirements because the MPF was only put in place in the late 1990s. They have no medical or social insurance even today. Can we really let the HKSAR Government refuse its responsibilities? At the very least, we must debate these issues.
An old man from my constituency told me he had to get up at 2 am to queue at a public hospital so he could see a doctor that day. If he went later, he might not have been far enough ahead in line to get an appointment that day.
Let us not forget how doctors working in public hospitals had to sue the Hospital Authority because their working hours were in breach of the law. It is hard to think of a worse example of dysfunctional government when the rights of both patients and medical staff are treated with such indifference.
These are the mismatches we must fix if we want a fair and decent society. The free market cannot deliver the solutions for these sorts of problems because markets do not cater for the family with no means because of unemployment, for the middle-aged worker struck down with a catastrophic illness.
Hong Kong urgently needs the right social policies.
This is why the issue of the minimum wage will not go away.
This is why the issue of healthcare reform will only become more urgent.
This is why the issue of air pollution's impact on public health cannot be tolerated.
Just remember, many of our low-income families live and work in Hong Kong's most polluted urban areas.
In terms of air quality, we already have a public health crisis. It is time for comprehensive action.
You can see from my Election Pamphlet my proposals for these problems. At the core is my belief that a democratically elected government provides the key to good governance because it has to be accountable for its decisions, and be responsive to public needs.
I want a debate on solutions. Will we have a chance to do this during the Chief Executive Election if there is no competition?
It is so much easier not to bother. Why be awkward? Why make trouble? Why make yourself unpopular?
But, that would be to fall into the trap of indifference. Indifference won't help Hong Kong.
I promise you I will work hard. I know I will be the more energetic and fitter candidate as we face the future. You will see that I have fresher ideas. You will see me among the people.
There is important work to be done.
This work cannot wait.
This is work I can do.
Please give me a hand.
The above does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation.