Hong Kong’s three chief executive candidates shared a stage during Sunday’s televised debate for the final time before the small-circle election.
The candidates answered questions from 507 electors in attendance. A group of 1,194 electors are set to choose Hong Kong’s next leader this Sunday.
All but two of the 21 questions, selected at random from 189 submissions, were from pro-democracy camp electors. Most were directed at front-runner Carrie Lam.
1. Empty desk
Simon Wong Kit-Lung, a catering sector sector who supports Lam, asked former officials Tsang and Lam to speak about occasions when they had appreciated each other’s work as old colleagues.
Lam, however, turned to sarcasm and recalled an experience when she was development secretary, a position under Tsang, who was the then-finance secretary.
“Every time I went into his room, because he had nothing on his desk, no files, no paper, I envied him,” Lam said. “I can hardly do that, because I read a lot of files to look into things from the past, and the policies I need to introduce in the future – I make a lot of preparations.”
But Tsang said: “Maybe she does not really know how I work.”
“I always believe that, aside from working hard, we need to work smart,” Tsang said, as he was cheered by some electors. He added: “A person who is capable of doing everything, is – at best – a very good employee, but not a leader.”
Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, a former journalist and now a pro-democracy higher education sector elector, shared a photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s desk during the debate.
He said Xi’s desk was also very clean and paperless, because the efficiency was high.
Lui quoted Li Zhanshu, director of the party’s general office, as saying: “Party secretary Xi Jinping asks us to clear all files on the desk and work cannot be left overnight. [Xi] works the same way.”
Lui asked: “So how would Carrie Lam comment on Xi’s desk?”
Under the post, hundreds of people shared photos of desks belonging to different people, including Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing, former US president Obama, Apple Inc. chief Tim Cook, and Lam’s former boss Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying – all of whom have clear desks.
Rival Woo Kwok-hing also posted on his Facebook page soon after, saying that his desk was also clear with only a few lunch boxes: “You should be a tree in your next life [for wasting] so much paper on files.”
2. Occupy platform
Lam was asked what happened to the multi-party communication platform she had promised, when she met student leaders during the 2014 occupy pro-democracy protests.
Lam, in reply, said she did intend to produce a report through the proposed platform to help bring the protests to a rapid conclusion, but did not directly answer as to why it was not done.
“I am afraid you know better than I what happened later,” she said.
Woo blamed Lam for sparking the 79-day protests: “She was in charge of political reform [consultations] of the three-member group of top officials – it failed badly.”
John Tsang said: “Many politicians think they have done things by just saying things.”
“Many items instigated by Mrs Lam did not end well. She said many things about small houses [in the New Territories] in the past, now she barely mentions it; She talked about [expanding] the Avenue of Stars – there was some pressure, some people thought it was a case of collusion between the government and businesses, she surrendered and shrunk the project; The Hong Kong Palace Museum was a good thing, but it became a bad one because of [lack of consultation].”
“I believe over the past few years, people know what it means to twist one’s words to someone’s advantage, we will not be tricked anymore,” he said.
3. Street visits
Lam also claimed, without naming Tsang, that he was not willing to visit local districts when he was an official.
Tsang said he will continue visiting areas with minimal police support if he is elected, whilst Woo said he declined police protection whenever he goes to places, and that he “travels by MTR everyday.”
Lam was criticised for not visiting Tin Shui Wai’s markets saying she was tired and it was far away. She apologised again at the debate saying it was a planning mistake.
Woo said in reply: “I have been to Tin Shui Wai, I go when I am invited… Mrs Lam would be surrounded by hundreds wherever she goes – I think she cannot go there. If she goes, there may be another occupy protest.”
Tsang said Tin Shui Wai was not very far away: “It is only 30 minutes from Wan Chai [Lam’s office].” Tsang added he has been there to speak with residents over the difficulties they face without a street market.
4. Humility and heart
In her closing statement, Lam said that “The Carrie Lam nowadays is still the Carrie Lam in the past. She upholds justice, seeks compassion and communicates with the people – the only difference is that she is more humble after an election.”
Tsang said: “Five years ago, 689 electors believed in a candidate with good speaking skills, believed he can lead Hong Kong, create a ‘Hong Kong camp’ – but history tells us the wish failed.”
“Five years on, the ‘Hong Kong camp’ did not form, society became more split than ever – the government cannot get support from the people, and governance is difficult… People hope to see a bit of change, they hope for a change in social atmosphere, where they will not feel it is tiring, or even suffocating.”
Woo criticised both Tsang and Lam for passing the buck as government officials.
“Hong Kong’s problem is not that it doesn’t have money, but that the person in power does not have a heart,” he said.