A political platform grounded in reality is expected of Lee

Former chief secretary for administration John Lee Ka-chiu has managed to gather nominations from a majority of the Election Committee to stand for the sixth-term chief executive election. Compared with the previous four chief executives, the person taking up the city’s top job on July 1 is believed to have the greatest responsibility, face the greatest expectations of the central government and the Hong Kong public, wield the greatest power and influence, and is in for a tough job.

Immediately since securing the necessary nominations, John Lee has been communicating proactively with members of the Election Committee, the community and various sectors to gather as many public opinions as possible for incorporation into his campaign platform, in what he said is a move to “leverage collective wisdom” to devise solutions to Hong Kong’s deep-seated problems. Conceivably, the public expects him to come up with a campaign platform offering policies focusing on three broad areas; namely, the pressing issues, the deep-seated problems, and the subversive threats.

Without doubt, the most pressing issue, or top priority, for Hong Kong now is overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. That the number of daily infections has dropped from the peak of over 50,000 to a few hundred recently is a reassuring sign, but it came after the city paid a heavy price of more than 1 million infections and nearly 9,000 deaths. While the pandemic is far from over, some people have begun to drop their guard. Conceivably, the public is eager to see the omicron strain fade away and is hoping for no more future outbreaks. To this end, the special administrative region government should be alert to loopholes and pitfalls in every anti-pandemic front and fix them without delay. Certainly, the public expects Lee to articulate comprehensive and workable anti-pandemic strategies in his political platform.

Lee’s humble beginning as a junior civil servant allows him to understand the plights of the poor well and empathize with the grassroots people. His political platform is expected to be grounded in reality and directed at pressing issues such as the housing shortage, social upward mobility, and employment

Another urgent issue for Hong Kong is the resumption of quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. Two years of segregation of the two sides has left many Hong Kong residents stranded on either side, depriving them of the opportunities to see their loved ones. The restrictions on travel have also hindered the city’s participation in the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and many blueprints as a result have been left hanging. The hurdles to the resumption of quarantine-free travel were predominantly the difference in the anti-pandemic approaches of the two sides and the endless dispute over Hong Kong’s proposed adoption of a health code with a tracking function. But the raging omicron outbreak has largely changed the perception of many Hong Kong residents, who now do not take omicron lightly and are willing to accept the terms of the Chinese mainland on resuming quarantine-free travel between the two sides. Lee repeatedly discussed the issue with mainland experts when he was still the chief secretary for administration. It is hoped that quarantine-free cross-boundary travel will be resumed as soon as the fifth wave of the pandemic is contained.

Hong Kong residents have gone through many difficulties in terms of livelihood, housing and elderly care over the past two years. It never rains but it pours. No one could have possibly anticipated a global pandemic on the heels of the social unrest in 2019.  The double whammy has cost tens of thousands of jobs, resulted in the closure of numerous small and medium-sized businesses, and wreaked so much havoc on the local economy, causing the loss of so many jobs. Both the employment market and wage levels have dwindled. Despite several rounds of government-funded relief measures, many residents still find themselves struggling to make ends meet amid the endless onslaught of the pandemic. Members of the public hope Lee will devote more passages to enhancing employment and income; some hope that the minimum wage should be reviewed every year along with the introduction of standard working hours; some would like the new administration to institutionalize the retirement age at 65 for large corporations, which would allow their employees to earn more money for retirement.

Poor housing conditions are undeniably a deep-seated problem for many residents. In fact, there are more people living in “nano flats” than in the notorious subdivided units and caged homes. The general living conditions in Hong Kong are poorer than those in Singapore and on the Chinese mainland. The housing issue has been talked about and studied for a long time, but little progress has been achieved so far. The public hope to see more bold initiatives in Lee’s political platform. Some have suggested that the “Long Term Housing Strategy” should include the goal of shortening the waiting time for public rental housing to three years from the current nearly six years.

The fifth wave of the outbreak has exposed some of the serious problems of elderly homes, such as insufficient facilities and outmoded services, which have contributed to the deaths of many elderly residents among the 9,000 COVID-19 victims. It is suggested that a development fund be set up to finance the cost of additional staff and modernization of facilities, a realistic proposal that could be incorporated into Lee’s political platform.

The people of Hong Kong are longing for normalcy and stability after experiencing the riots and pandemic. However, the sweeping economic sanctions triggered by the Russia-Ukraine conflict have inevitably added uncertainty to the global economy and financial markets, raising concerns about geopolitical repercussions on Hong Kong’s global financial-hub status. Lee and his campaign staff are expected to address this risk in his political platform. The next SAR administration should remain vigilant and look out for the slightest possibility of financial sanctions coming from the United States. A contingency plan with countermeasures should be formulated as soon as possible so that Hong Kong will not be caught unprepared by foreign hostility.

Last but not least, Hong Kong has yet to fulfill its constitutional obligation to safeguard national security with the enactment of legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law. National security is a red line that nobody can challenge; and Hong Kong should no longer procrastinate over the legislation that is pivotal to safeguarding national security and ensuring stability. Once the national security loopholes are all fixed, radicals and subversives will be stripped of their fantasy of using “one country, two systems” to subvert China, dashing their delusion on either “hard” or “soft” confrontation.

Lee’s humble beginning as a junior civil servant allows him to understand the plights of the poor well and empathize with the grassroots people. His political platform is expected to be grounded in reality and directed at pressing issues such as the housing shortage, social upward mobility, and employment.

The author is a Hong Kong member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.