South China Morning Post, 14 May 2003

Restoring relevance to the chief executive post



By Martin Lee

The people of Hong Kong believed, in the run up to the handover, that it would be the engine to pull the mainland forward in implementing its four modernisation programmes. The city had the rule of law, freedoms, a level playing field, prosperity, stability and above all, money. The only thing lacking would be democracy, which many rich and powerful thought unimportant, and some even believed democracy obstructed economic success.

When there were natural disasters on the mainland, Hong Kong people were on hand to help, collecting money on busy street corners. In 1991, for example, my former party, The United Democrats of Hong Kong, joined other concerned groups and raised more than $100 million for the flood victims of eastern China. So it is no wonder so many people in Hong Kong were shocked to see Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa last week receive medical supplies in Shenzhen from State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan, the newly appointed official responsible for Hong Kong and Macau affairs. The once-proud Hong Kong taking alms from the once-poor mainland. Who, before 1997, could have imagined this reversal of fortune? Who in Hong Kong still remembers Deng Xiaoping's promise of no change in 50 years?

Look at our civil service. We were told in 1997 that Hong Kong's civil servants were the best in the world. That was why many measures were introduced to entice them to stay. But now they are treated like dirt, and scheme after scheme has been introduced to get rid of them. Their high morale has long since disappeared. Look at the levelness of the playing field. In politics, not only does Mr Tung favour the pro-communist political parties, he has effectively become the titular head of the Liberal Party and the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong. He ignores the Democratic camp. The Democratic Party, still the largest political group in Legco, recently requested a meeting with him on the Sars crisis, only to be told it would be very difficult.

In business, it is common knowledge that we now have an uneven playing field, which leans more and more towards Hong Kong's richest - Li Ka-shing and his two sons. Mr Tung runs Hong Kong like his own family business. I was reminded by a solicitor friend who did a lot of work for Mr Tung's father - owner of the world's largest fleet of oil tankers at one time - that Mr Tung managed to bring his family business to insolvency in 10 years - which also happens to be the time he has in the post of chief executive. Whenever there is a crisis, people look for leadership, and leaders often emerge - British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in World War II, New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani after September 11, for example. As the saying goes: Cometh the hour, cometh the man. But in Hong Kong it is: Cometh the hour, but where is the man?

Mr Tung is in the position not because we want him there, but because the central government chose him. And the great majority of people do not want him to continue as chief executive. But because he has the support of the majority of members in the undemocratically constituted Legco, he will easily survive today's motion calling on him to resign. Thus, he will continue in his post until June 30, 2007. For the majority, however, he has become irrelevant. People change channels when he appears on television, while others tell unflattering jokes about Mr Tung and his government. The Internet is full of such remarks. With the anticipated passage in July of the controversial National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill into law, against the will of the majority, the mainlandisation of Hong Kong will be complete.

But we must not give up and allow this to happen. We must do everything in our power to make sure the next chief executive serves Hong Kong well. It will, however, be wrong to ask the central government to remove Mr Tung from office, for two reasons. First, if we ask officials in Beijing to remove a bad chief executive today, they may remove a good one tomorrow. Second, there can be no guarantee that the next leader selected by the central government will be any better. The right thing to do is get better organised in our fight for democracy, with the objective of having the next chief executive democratically elected in 2007, and the entire legislature democratically elected in 2008 - both of which are allowed in the Basic Law.

Only then will Deng Xiaoping's dream of Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong come true. We must not delay - time and tide wait for no man.

Martin Lee Chu-ming is a legislator and a former chairman of the Democratic Party.

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