Plea to Yoda: Let us choose our own Jedi
Most of the attention and public discussion to date about potential candidates for next Chief Executive has focused on speculation about who is thought to have Beijing's support, supplemented by public opinion surveys conducted by local academics.
Given the reality of Hong Kong's situation, this is to some extent inevitable and both factors are indeed important. Acceptability to the Central Government is a sine qua non and no Chief Executive is going to survive very long unless he or she can muster support from Hong Kong people.
In looking at this second factor, we need to examine some of its components. These have not so far attracted much coverage, but they ought to rank highly in our own and Beijing's assessment because they will determine how successfully the CE is going to perform in the job.
The first is the quality of the individual's political instincts. How good are his antennae? The second and related one concerns the individual's personality and heart. What sort of person is he, and what is motivating him to seek the office in the first place. The CE election is not a mere beauty contest, we want to know what makes that person tick.
We need someone in tune with public sentiment, but with the ability also to lead the community to the high ground when necessary rather than slavishly following every public opinion survey. We want a good person, someone who might not win every fight, but who will always be on the right side.
In short, what we need is a Jedi knight.
Both of our first two Chief Executives have struggled at times to read the political mood. Tung Chee Hwa suffered from the handicap of being a top business leader at a time when such people were beginning to fall out of public favour, though his grandfather image helped to soften the edges. But whatever possessed him to think that the draft legislation on Article 23 was going to be acceptable to ordinary people or could anyway be rammed through a legislature whose members would shortly have to face the public at the impending elections?
Some recent actions and comments by the present administration have been no better. An overwhelming majority feel property tycoons have too much sway over the economy, but one of the government's recent actions was to amend the law to make it easier for developers to enforce compulsory purchase of people's homes. One senior figure even encouraged the young to aspire to follow in the footsteps of our most successful developer, thereby denting his own light sabre possibly beyond repair.
Our Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Hong Kong's very own Ministerial Darth Vader, has shown his dedication to the dark side with the proposal to scrap by-elections. The ability of the wealthy to make illegal alterations to their property, or even illegally occupy public land including roads and ignore statutory notices with impunity shows who really holds power in our society. The list goes on.
There has been discussion of administrative experience. But what we are looking for in a Chief Executive is leadership, the ability to weigh up all relevant factors and then come up with a clear decision – and take responsibility for it. The civil service is well able to deliver the goods once the direction has been set, a point made recently, and rather quaintly if indelicately, by the head of the Hong Kong & Macao Affairs Office.
The best test of a candidate's character, the best examination of whether he has those indefinable leadership qualities, is an election with wide participation. The very process itself will illuminate whether he has what we need. And the act of going through the process helps to bestow on the successful candidate the credibility he will need to survive the full five year term.
So here is the bottom line. If we assume our Yoda lives in Zhongnanhai and Beijing anoints one candidate with the mandate of heaven, whether by a handshake during a Kodak moment or a place setting at dinner, then that candidate will be “successful” in winning the election but spend the next five years fighting off failure.
It would be far better to allow a genuine contest among a small pool of candidates each of whom would be acceptable to the Central Government.
Such a person may not turn out to be a true Jedi. But at a minimum the Force will have been with him – or her – at least for a while.