It appears that the majority of people in Hong Kong are against Tung Chee-hwa having a second term of office as the Chief Executive, although for different reasons. Two questions are being asked: if not Mr Tung, then who? And how do we know whether or not the next leader will be worse?
These questions suggest that Hong Kong people should accept Mr Tung as their Chief Executive for another five years no matter how unhappy they are with his performance in his first term.
Implicit in the first question is the belief that although there are people who can do a much better job than Mr Tung, Beijing will not appoint any of them even if elected. The second question suggests that among the people of whom Beijing approves, there is no one better than Mr Tung. These two propositions might have been true in December 1996, when Mr Tung was chosen by Beijing through the Election Committee. But they no longer hold true today.
First, the Basic Law - which provides for a very undemocratic method of electing the Chief Executive - was finalised shortly after the June 4 massacre in 1989, when the leaders in Beijing were not even sure they could remain in office for long, and when the key word on Hong Kong was control. The greatest fear in Beijing then was political turmoil in Hong Kong after 1997, which of course did not materialise. On the contrary, the transition could not have been smoother. Unlike Taiwan, nobody has asked for independence.
Further, the deep distrust of the Beijing leadership by Hong Kong people exacerbated by the June 4 massacre has waned substantially with the subsequent change of leadership in Beijing and economic progress made on the mainland, which is expected to continue with China's entry into the World Trade Organisation.
The first question as to whether there is anyone more suitable to the job of Chief Executive should be raised with the person who chose Mr Tung for his present term of office - President Jiang Zemin. It should not be forgotten that in 1995, Beijing sent an emissary, Li Chuwen, then the deputy director of Xinhua (New China News Agency), to Hong Kong. After a long period of consultation with a wide range of people in our community, he recommended Mr Tung.
Of course, Mr Tung was only appointed officially after a so-called election on December 10, 1996, by the Election Committee of 400 who were themselves chosen by the Preparatory Committee constituted by Beijing.
According to press reports, it appears that Mr Jiang, Premier Zhu Rongji and Vice-Premier Qian Qichen have all openly endorsed Mr Tung for a second term. Unfortunately, nobody from the media asked them whether they knew Mr Tung was unpopular with the people of Hong Kong, and why they had apparently not sent an emissary to Hong Kong to find out from those people who had so highly thought of Mr Tung in 1995 whether they would support him for a second term. It is time that these questions are directed at Beijing's leaders before it is too late.
Regarding the second question whether the person succeeding Mr Tung as Chief Executive would not be worse, the answer depends on the quality of the person chosen by our leaders in Beijing.
Under the present system, the next Chief Executive will be elected by the 800 members of the Beijing-controlled Election Committee constituted in July last year, and no one can be a candidate unless nominated by 100 members of the Election Committee. So without Beijing's support, no one is likely even to be nominated.
It is really up to the leadership in Beijing to decide whether they want just one candidate, in which case there will not even be an election next year, or whether they want more candidates, in which case there will be a controlled election on March 24, 2002 - similar to the one in December 1996 - when the results of the election were known long before the first vote was cast.
In either scenario, the successor to Mr Tung will effectively be chosen by the leaders in Beijing. Thus, the answer to the second question depends on the collective wisdom of our leaders in Beijing. If they make a good choice, then the next Chief Executive will be better than Mr Tung. If they choose an unsuitable person, then the next Chief Executive might be worse than Mr Tung. But why should it be this way? Why should our Chief Executive be decided in Beijing? Is this really one country, two systems? Where is the high degree of autonomy promised to us?
Surely, the opponents of democracy who do not wish Mr Tung to have a second term of five years should wake up. While democracy does not guarantee the best person will become the leader of a nation or a city, it does guarantee that the voters in a democratic system, will have the opportunity to prevent an unsuitable person such as Mr Tung from having a second term of office.
After 4.5 years of smooth transition and political stability, it is time for our leaders in Beijing to learn to trust the people of Hong Kong and believe that democracy in the SAR will not lead to clamours for independence, as in Taiwan.
Further, the leaders in Beijing should realise that under our present electoral system for the Chief Executive, which is an appointment system in democratic clothing, the holder of that office does not have the mandate of the people of Hong Kong. That is why the people here have no confidence in Mr Tung to lead them out of this economic gloom and doom.
We should change the system, rather than the person who is but the product of a bad system. If the song is bad, changing the singer will not give you good music. Our leaders in Beijing have the vision and courage to usher in a brave new world for our country by joining the World Trade Organisation.
Their vision and courage should extend to Hong Kong in the full implementation of the promise of a high degree of autonomy under the policy of one country, two systems and let us choose our own Chief Executive, thus making us the masters of our own destiny.