Lee demonstrates task- and relationship-oriented mastery

Getting 786 nominations from the 1,454-member Election Committee (EC), chief executive hopeful John Lee Ka-chiu has clearly demonstrated that he is the right man to do the right job to lead Hong Kong into a new era of stability and prosperity. Contrary to the allegation that the EC is a “small circle”, the enlarged EC ensures the expansion of democratic participation with adequate representation of the interests of all sectors while embodying the principle of balanced participation in our society.

The principle of balanced representation ensures that the expectations and competing demands of different sectors will fall on the friendly ears of John Lee. The chief executive hopeful must balance these competing demands against public interests. We will discuss these expectations and demands below. At the time of writing, John Lee has only offered broad directions by focusing on results-oriented administration, competition-boosting measures, and the need to reinforce the city’s foundation. Instead of making general comments on these broad directions, we will make a preliminary assessment of the strength of his leadership style and examine whether he will become a competent conductor of a new symphony.

It would be self-deluding if John Lee believed that his administration could ignore the housing, social inequality and poverty problems of the city. Public interests require the next chief executive to tackle these three problems in line with the expectations of mainstream society. The dream of a rapid increase in the land supply will evaporate if we look at the details of the Northern Metropolis development plan. The above plan, even if implemented to the last comma, is too remote to be relevant to the housing needs of Hong Kong people. To speak bluntly, the rosy plan cannot reduce the waiting time for public housing. In 2020, the average waiting time was 5.7 years.

John Lee needs to use interpersonal and communicative skills to strengthen his relationship with people from all walks of life. He needs to win the hearts and minds of residents by listening to their demands, promoting his policies and delivering good governance

John Lee has clarified that a results-oriented administration would not sacrifice well-established mechanisms and regulations. But bureaucratic procedures could be minimized to provide quicker outcomes and give a sense of having benefited. His comment has drawn our attention to the complicated lease-modification procedures in the city. Once an application has been received and accepted, the District Lands Officer will invite different departments to comment on the lease modification application. It is really a time-consuming process.

The new chief executive may also need to consider changing the existing laws to facilitate the sale and purchase of Tso and Tong land. At present, the private purchase of Tso and Tong land is virtually impossible because usually the consent of many people will be required, but it only requires one member of Tso or Tong to object and the sale will be frustrated.

Another festering socioeconomic problem is poverty. In fact, the housing problems and poverty are interrelated. Confidence in the new chief executive will sink to rock bottom if the newly introduced tenancy controls on subdivided units lack teeth. Furthermore, the new administration should study the feasibility of transforming some quarantine centers into transitional housing units in the post-COVID-19 era.

It is the height of arrogance for some commentators to argue that the living conditions of the poor are not really bad because of the generous welfare systems in Hong Kong. An interview with residents in subdivided units will provide the shocks and aftershocks to help take the sting out of the above argument. The poverty rate has disappointedly hit a 12-year high, with more than 1 in 5 people, or 1.65 million residents, living in poverty in 2020. Many of them are elderly.

We do feel a pang of sympathy for the difficulties faced by those hardworking young people who have failed to climb up the social ladder. Upward social mobility is an expensive commodity in Hong Kong because of the entrenched social inequality problem. Perhaps the city’s integration into the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area will provide more diversified job opportunities for our young people and add more spice to their career paths. More importantly, a successful integration will sharpen our competitive edge, which is consistent with the second broad policy direction highlighted by John Lee.

It is premature at this stage to give a detailed analysis of the strength of John Lee’s leadership because his leadership is in large part dependent on the situation in which he performs his duties. His track record and skills demonstrated in dealing with violent demonstrations in 2019 and handling cases in relation to the National Security Law for Hong Kong have highlighted the strength of his character, his ability to lead an effective team to maintain order, and his determination to reach target outcomes under stressful circumstances. Scholars often use the term “task-oriented” to describe this kind of leadership style. John Lee is definitely a strong task-oriented leader.

In order to promote cooperation between the legislature and the executive and build a strong executive team with experts from economic, financial and other sectors, John Lee also needs to focus on the cooperation between the legislative and executive branches, the relationship among his governing team, and the overall well-being and satisfaction of team members. Relationship-oriented leaders often possess good communicative skills. Besides, John Lee needs to use interpersonal and communicative skills to strengthen his relationship with people from all walks of life. He needs to win the hearts and minds of residents by listening to their demands, promoting his policies and delivering good governance. We are confident that he is made of the stuff of which a good relationship-oriented leader is made.

Finally, we urge John Lee to relaunch the electoral reform in accordance with the principles laid down in the Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in relation to the electoral method of the 2017 chief executive election and the 2016 Legislative Council’s election (the “8.31 Decision”).

Lessons have to be learned from the failure of some Hong Kong residents to accept the reasonable screening mechanisms stipulated by the 8.31 Decision for the proposed nominating committee. The then-“pro-democracy” camp criticized the screening mechanisms, labeling them as “undemocratic”.

According to the 8.31 Decision, a broadly representative nominating committee shall be formed, which shall be modeled after the existing EC formed in 2012. The nominating committee shall nominate two or three chief executive candidates, each of whom must have the endorsement of more than half of all the members of the nominating committee before they can join the race. The chief executive-elect, after being selected through universal suffrage, has to be appointed by the Central People’s Government. After the election of the chief executive via universal suffrage, all members of the Legislative Council may also be selected via universal suffrage.

On reflection, the screening mechanisms are necessary to prevent anti-government disruptors from hijacking the electoral process to destabilize Hong Kong and endanger national security. The Western-style election system is not a one-size-fits-all model. More and more Hong Kong residents have realized that the rejection of the government’s proposed electoral reform package for the implementation of universal suffrage, in 2015, was a miscalculation. The relaunch of electoral reform in accordance with the 8.31 Decision at an appropriate time will further promote democratic development in Hong Kong.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor.

Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Center, and co-founder of the Together We Can and Hong Kong Coalition.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.