Redistributive policy

OPINION – John Lee post-nomination policy directions and reforms

Although John Lee secured 786 nominations out of the 1,452 members of the Election Committee (EC) on April 13 and is set to become the next chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), his quest a high degree of legitimacy has just begun, which means that he must design his political platform in such a way as to win the hearts and minds of as many EC members as possible on May 8th.

While some people have focused on Lee’s so-called “lack of grassroots support” because two-thirds of the appointments came from the upper middle classes, this observation overlooked the fact that a majority of the 17 deputy directors of Lee came from a professional background. rather than the basic sector. Thus, the “under-representation” of the Third Sector (popular, worker and religious sector with 102 nominations) was natural against 188 nominations of the First Sector (commercial, business, financial and monetary sector), 186 nominations of the professional sector, 163 nominations from the fourth sector (legislators and representatives of district organizations) and 147 nominations from the fifth sector (members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the National People’s Congress and other national organizations). From the perspective of political mobilization, all other “patriots” and their related groups will be mobilized on election day, which will lead to a high degree of legitimacy of Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive.

While mainland elections are often characterized by the principle of “democratic centralism”, with the centralist element being the dominant component, the election of the Hong Kong Chief Executive is no exception to this rule. The centralizing aspect manifests itself in the nomination of a single candidate, namely John Lee, while a few other Hong Kongers who had declared their interest in standing for election gave up doing so, either because they had no support, or simply because they understood that the central authorities want to see this election as a reflection of a united Hong Kong SAR without factional rivalries.

The biggest challenge for John Lee and his campaign office is getting the most votes in this one-man election. As such, the stronger his political platform, the more likely he is to get the most votes on May 8.

Different interest groups and political groups contacted him and his campaign office for a variety of policy areas. For example, members of the Heung Yee Kuk rural council expressed their concerns about the development of the northern metropolis.

The pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress (DAB) in Hong Kong has expressed a number of demands, including (1) the resumption of “normal socio-economic activities and their interactions with foreign personnel” in Omicron’s containment process; (2) the establishment of a Political Development and Reform Unit to conduct research on Hong Kong political issues; (3) reappointment of an information officer to strengthen the government’s ability to communicate with the public; (4) the start of legislation on Article 23 of the Basic Law; (5) the formulation of “legislation on false information on the Internet”; (6) attracting high caliber non-local talent to work in Hong Kong with tax exemptions; (7) the promise to ensure 3 years for applicants for social housing to live in their requested accommodation while increasing the supply of social housing to 30,000 per year; (8) the formulation of a fixed starting rent for the subdivided units within two years; (9) review of the minimum wage by a government committee; and (1) promoting the internationalization of the renminbi in the HKSAR.

Other political groups expressed their support for John Lee without specifying their demands, notably the Federation of Business and Professionals (BPF) and the Liberal Party (LP). It remains to be seen how the BPF and LP will articulate a more concrete policy platform in the interest of maintaining Hong Kong’s economic prosperity and status as a financial hub.

Some representatives led by the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) have been moderate in their demands, including the promotion of vocational training for the working class, the introduction of maternity leave for men whose wives give birth, an increase unemployment benefits, and job protection for workers.

Critically, the DAB and FTU made relatively weak demands on improving people’s livelihoods. Neither the DAB nor the FTU talk about income redistribution in the form of a revision of the current tax system which remains unbalanced in favor of the very rich. FTU representatives did not suggest any concrete amount of unemployment benefit and its related mechanism. More importantly, the DAB and FTU did not discuss a much shorter waiting time for the poor and needy who applied for social housing.

The Cube Hospital phenomenon, where rooms are much larger and more spacious than current cage houses and subdivided units in which very poor people reside, shows that the plight of many poor people in 2022 parallels that people living in squatter huts in colonial Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s. During the height of the Omicron attack in March, many people living in subdivided units were helpless and could easily become infected in a crowded environment.

Although Liaison Office Director Luo Huining visited a subdivided apartment in Mongkok in September 2021, there has been no drastic change in the HKSAR government’s policy towards such subdivided units except for the imposition of rent control.

Ideally, John Lee’s political platform, if results-oriented, should deal with the existence and proliferation of subdivided units in a much more determined and effective manner.

John Lee has already mentioned a number of political issues that he will tackle: legislation on Article 23 of the Basic Law and the addition of some secretaries and political offices to the existing government structures (including the Secretary of Culture, for Sports and Tourism; Secretary for Environment and Ecology; Secretary for Medical and Health Affairs; Secretary for Interior and Youth, Secretary for Housing, Secretary for Innovation, Technology and industry; and transport and logistics secretary).

(220406) — HONG KONG, April 6, 2022 (Xinhua) — John Lee, chief secretary for administration of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government, attends a press conference in Hong Kong, in the south China, April 6, 2022. Lee tendered his resignation on Wednesday, saying he plans to run in the upcoming general manager elections for the Hong Kong SAR’s sixth term. (Xinhua/Lui Siu Wai)

A number of civil service unions have contacted John Lee and his campaign office for their views on civil service reform. Strictly speaking, the civil service unions should remain politically neutral, but their expression of political support for Lee was understandable in a new era with an emphasis on political correctness and patriotism. A civil service union said political offices and departments should improve their communications. From the public’s perspective, the chaos in the government’s fight against the spread of Omicron stemmed more from a lack of leadership in the civil service at the middle and lower levels than from a lack of communication from within. The slowness of issuing death certificates to the unfortunately deceased elderly people of Omicron in March fully illustrated the rigidity of certain departments in the face of crises. Civil service reforms should include more crisis management training from departments and inculcate a greater sense of rapid response to crises. It remains to be seen how John Lee’s political platform and direction will enact comprehensive civil service reforms.

Other policy areas need to be addressed. The absence of any sports policy for the Hong Kong SAR needs to be addressed urgently. Given that 90% of young people between the ages of 18 and 35 did not vote in the December 2021 legislative elections, John Lee’s campaign team should try to win their hearts and minds by having a clear youth policy.

None of the legislators spoke of the need for political reform, except for Tik Chi-yuen who spoke of the need for a government reinvigoration of the August 31, 2014 setting in which central authorities have authorized the people of Hong Kong to choose their chief executive after an election committee eliminates 2 to 3 candidates. Radical Democrats called such a generous proposal “pseudo-democratic.”

From a critical point of view, it is a bit too early to speak of political reform if the December legislative elections saw the withdrawal of the most pro-democracy groups. If pro-democracy groups return to embrace the next legislative elections in 2026, there would be a realistic possibility of bailing out the idea of ​​the August 31 setting in 2027 and 2032.

John Lee and his aides would more likely focus on district administrative reforms, where most district councils no longer function after mass resignations and the disqualification of many council members. At the very least, the district councils are the only consultative bodies with directly elected elements. It is hoped that while appointed seats may be reintroduced on district councils, those appointed seats would be reserved for a minority of council members. Otherwise, a prominent reverse democratization at the district level would likely continue to perpetuate political apathy and disillusion among many young people between the ages of 18 and 35.

In conclusion, the challenge for John Lee and his campaign office is to win the hearts and minds of more election committee members with a concrete political platform. Critics who downplay the importance of this chief executive election have ignored the element of “democratic centralism” in democracy with Chinese characteristics. Hong Kong is no exception to this rule. As such, John Lee and his campaign office must work hard to resolve a multiplicity of issues to bolster the legitimacy of the new chief executive. These issues encompass not only the legislation on Article 23 of the Basic Law, but also the urgent issue of speeding up the waiting time for many applicants for social housing, speeding up the construction of social housing each year, relocating the poor to at least more human housing rather than living in subdivided units and cage houses, and toying with ideas of income redistribution, civil service reform, sports policy, youth and district administrative reforms. If the foundations of the John Lee administration were firmly entrenched, then the years 2027 and 2032 would have the realistic likelihood of discussing the issue of democratizing the election of the Chief Executive, especially since the HKSAR is experiencing a harmonious relationship between the executive and the more “patriotic” legislature. A strong chief executive with a popular mandate will coexist in the future with a cooperative legislature. In the meantime, however, the people of Hong Kong must accept the political reality of a step-by-step process of political reform, emphasizing stability and unity under the principle of “democratic centralism”.