John Lee offers ambitious plans to restore normality, progress to Hong Kong

Chief executive candidate John Lee Ka-chiu has set himself a very challenging agenda, which he is confident in fulfilling. On Sunday, he is likely to be elected to Hong Kong’s top post by a 1,500-strong Election Committee representing the entire spectrum of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s community.

When his name first started appearing on the horizon about two months ago, there was speculation that Hong Kong would become a “police state”, given his background as a policeman and security boss being teamed up with current Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung. Critics argued he was only schooled in security matters and was not well-versed in domestic issues such as housing, social welfare, transport, etc, as well as not being familiar with the business community, the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s success.

However, these doubts were quickly dispelled when he announced his candidacy and, with the blessing of Beijing, he quickly surrounded himself with a bevy of champions of commerce and industry, and grassroots representatives.

The 58-member campaign advisory team, headed by Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, Tam Yiu-chung, put together an exhausting plan of visits to Election Committee members as well as meet-the-people exchanges in various districts.

Western-inclined media were miffed that there was only one candidate for the top job, totally forgetting that for one and a half centuries, the United Kingdom appointed governors to Hong Kong without any consultation with the local populace

Western-inclined media were miffed that there was only one candidate for the top job, totally forgetting that for one and a half centuries, the United Kingdom appointed governors to Hong Kong without any consultation with the local populace. Not once did they complain during those 150 years. They also referred to the Election Committee being a “small circle” of nominators and electors. But the 1,500-strong Election Committee, made up of the entire cross-section of the community, is nearly treble as big as the 538-strong Electoral College for electing the president of the United States. And as the 2016 US presidential election proved, the Electoral College vote overrules the popular vote (Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but Donald Trump was voted in as president by the Electoral College).

In accordance with the Basic Law, Hong Kong was on the path toward universal suffrage in electing the chief executive until the plans were scuttled by the proxies of those foreign forces that had penetrated the very fabric of Hong Kong’s society — educational institutions (from primary schools to universities), trade unions, and even the local legislature. Social unrest ensued, and Beijing had to bring its gradual approach to democracy back to normality. Drastic measures were enforced to instill a sense of patriotism in the community. And part of the measures included a revamp in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s electoral system to ensure that the region will be administered only by patriots.

On April 29, Mr Lee presented his 44-page election manifesto to the public, outlining his main policy priorities; and while some issues were not addressed because of time constraints, he said they were not overlooked.

Hong Kong’s perpetual problem of housing was top of his list. He proposed a fast-track housing and planning cycle, which would explore the feasibility of a Public Rental Housing Advance Allocation Scheme, a short-term relief measure to shorten the wait time of applicants. Government experts will examine the plan and report back to him within 100 days, if he eventually gets the top job, as to its feasibility.

An interesting TV clip during his meet-the-people campaign showed him talking to some primary-school children living in a subdivided flat. The clip mentioned that children brought up in poverty were likely to live their lives in poverty. The exchange touched him immensely, so much so that he has proposed a trial program to ease cross-generational poverty. The program will involve about 1,000 secondary students living in subdivided flats and will last two to three years. The plan is for non-governmental organizations and private corporations to provide training and mentorships to boost the youths’ confidence and help them achieve their career goals.

His plans have been well received and are very much livelihood issues, as well as infrastructure development, including the Northern Metropolis development strategy in the Yuen Long area, and the Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan.

In keeping with his former positions, Mr Lee pledged he would fulfill the constitutional responsibility of legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law. Article 23 stipulates that the Hong Kong SAR government shall enact its own laws to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government. It was first mooted in 2002 during the administration of Tung Chee-hwa. But despite a major push by then-secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the proposed legislation was shelved after the eruption of major protests.

Hong Kong had remained largely unsettled since then as external forces took advantage of the HKSAR’s vulnerability, and the time was not ripe to reintroduce the controversial legislation. However, with the National Security Law for Hong Kong and a revamped legislature now in place, Mr Lee believes now is the time to bring Article 23 legislation to the fore.

The tasks ahead for Mr Lee are very ambitious or challenging, but he appears ready to take them head-on with a revamped civil service working closely with a revamped Legislative Council.

The author is a former chief information officer of the Hong Kong government, a PR and media consultant, and a veteran journalist.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.