Does Woo have what it takes to lead us?

October 31, 2016 09:48
Apart from having no political and administrative experience, Woo Kwok-hing has no political allies, no teammates and no blessing from Beijing. Photo: HKEJ

On Thursday, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing became the first person to announce his candidacy for the 2017 chief executive election.

The next day, former security chief Regina Ip expressed her interest in joining the race.

Meanwhile, there is talk that Financial Secretary John Tsang has informed Beijing that he is going to resign soon to focus on his own candidacy.

So far, he has neither admitted nor denied it.

At a press conference announcing his candidacy, Woo said he decided to run because he is dismayed at the deep divisions and intense polarization of our society under Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, whom he said has failed to address public grievances.

He also said his personal qualities such as impartiality, integrity and incorruptibility as an experienced judge are his unique strengths that will enable him to reunite society and restore harmony.

True, being a highly respected and impartial judge is no doubt a strength, given Hong Kong people's admiration for legal professionals.

However, that strength can also turn out to be a weakness. Woo, who spent the past 30 years as a barrister and judge, has no political and administrative experience.

So how can he convince the people of Hong Kong that he is the right leader and can have a grip on the ever-changing political environment?

Unlike in a court trial, where solid evidence is the only thing that counts, there is often no objective evidence nor any established rules and guidelines in politics based on which one can make sound decisions.

Besides, impartiality could sometimes lead to indecision as political leaders often need to take sides in order to get things done.

As in the story of the Judgment of Solomon, of which many of us are familiar, King Solomon managed to settle a dispute between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child by ruling that the child was to be cut into half so that he could be split between them, thereby tricking both parties into revealing their true feelings.

Yet by today's standard, King Solomon’s idea to kill a baby in order to find out who his real mother was may not be acceptable to the public any more

The harsh reality is, in politics, the only rule is probably that there is no rule and therefore it very often takes resourcefulness, wisdom, flexibility or even political expediency for a political leader to make tough or important decisions.

In other words, a good political leader must be able to think outside the box and make judgment calls.

The problem is, as someone who was accustomed to rigid rules and firmly established guidelines throughout his career as a barrister and a judge, can Woo really think outside the box? Does he have the kind of political wisdom that can enable him to resolve problems in times of crisis?

Apart from having no political and administrative experience, Woo has no political allies, no teammates and no blessing from Beijing which put him at a disadvantage.

And it remains questionable whether he can get the endorsement of at least 150 Election Committee members in order to become an official candidate.

Lastly, as judge Woo has vowed to relaunch political reform consultations once he gets elected, which he said is probably the most urgent issue for Hong Kong right now, can he really help the different factions across our political spectrum find common ground on this highly polarizing issue, given his background as a judge who was above partisan politics throughout his career?

Perhaps the most important task before judge Woo is to convince both Beijing and the people of Hong Kong that he is up to that daunting task.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 28

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal