The challenges facing Carrie Lam as next CE
Updated: 2017-03-27 06:43
By Ho Lok-sang(HK Edition)
Ho Lok-sang urges new leader to tackle the economic, political causes of polarization in society, especially land and housing issues
At a debate among the three candidates ahead of the Chief Executive election, John Tsang called Carrie Lam "Polarization 2.0", implying that incumbent CE Leung Chun-ying was "Polarization 1.0", and that Lam would continue the path of polarizing opposing camps. This narrative proved to be successful in getting media attention, and "Polarization 2.0" immediately became a sound bite that helped draw public support behind him. However, cooler heads understand that the phenomenon of polarization is never the result of one person's style of leadership, but is always the result of social dynamics in the context of major social, economic, and political forces at work. Whether it is in the UK, the US, Europe, South Korea or Taiwan, the process of democratization has not been a unifying force. Rather, it has often aggravated divisiveness and schisms in society. This is the nature of "adversarial democracy", which is founded on the assumption that divergent interests should be allowed to compete fairly to gain political power, and thus to further their own interests. A pessimist would say that Hong Kong will continue on the road of internal strife. Making peace between the "pan-democrats" and the pro-establishment camps will be an impossible dream. Being an optimist, however, I am still hopeful that reason and common sense will eventually prevail. This is because Hong Kong simply has no choice: internal strife is the path to decline and social unrest; reason and common sense is the path to peace and prosperity.
For this reason, I would appeal to our media and our educators to put down the narrative of associating polarization with a person or with the central government. All of us need to understand that it is in Beijing's interest to see Hong Kong thrive, and Beijing's past record does show that while it had indicated very clearly that it will not accept someone who opposes the central government to serve as Chief Executive, it has always been supportive of Hong Kong's economy and has always refrained from interfering with Hong Kong's local policy. I was very happy to learn of Beijing's decision to return the Home Return Permits to those "pan-democrats" whose permits had been withdrawn. I hope this is the beginning of a truce and the rebuilding of trust between the central government and "pan-democrats".
Internal strife has been undermining Hong Kong's economy and social fabric. Hong Kong cannot afford to allow internal strife to continue undermining Hong Kong's development, because at stake is the livelihood of 7.3 million people. There are two causes of internal strife in Hong Kong. One is economic; the other is political. The economic cause stems from income and wealth disparity, the perceived decline in upward mobility, and possible holes in our social safety net. The political cause stems from the frustration over the unsuccessful quest for "genuine universal suffrage". The economic cause of internal strife is easier to address, because Hong Kong is affluent enough and is well-positioned to ameliorate those problems. The political cause is more difficult to deal with, because we cannot legally deviate from the requirement in the Basic Law for the Nominating Committee to first nominate the candidates. And we need to understand that this requirement was the result of long discussions, and serves as a safeguard against the possibility of electing someone who opposes the central government to serve as Chief Executive. Hong Kong people need to understand that this is the institutional framework within which we have to operate. If our media and our teachers continue to educate our youngsters that only unbridled universal suffrage is genuine universal suffrage, they will continue to fight for this perceived ideal and will continue to be frustrated.
Carrie Lam certainly has to heal the wounds from polarization. She is right in continuing with Leung's policy of expanding land supply and increasing housing supply, particularly public housing. However, she needs to be more careful with her proposal to build more owner-occupied subsidized homes at the expense of public rental housing. I'm not opposed to the idea in principle, provided such homes are subject to a resale restriction of reselling only to those who are eligible for buying subsidized homes. If, on the other hand, these government-subsidized homes are allowed to be resold in the open market, they would no longer be available to serve the needs of the target group households. Replacing a lost flat with a new one is becoming increasingly costly, not only because construction costs are high but also because the opportunity cost of land is rising.
Lam should also increase the funding for our public hospitals and expand the scope of drugs that can be administered to patients. She had chaired the Community Care Fund for a long time, and headed the Social Welfare Department. She understands the needs of our underprivileged. I trust she will see to it that our homes for the elderly are up to standard and that there will be more support for families with handicapped children.
(HK Edition 03/27/2017 page5)