The Last Word: Alex Leong

Hong Kong has an election coming up for its next Chief Executive on March 25. The choice won't go to the people, however; the only voters will be 800 bureaucrats and functionaries vetted by Beijing. Yet defying all odds, Alan Leong Kam-kit has managed to get on the ballot as a pro-democracy candidate. Not only that: if he somehow manages to defeat the incumbent Donald Tsang, Leong vows to bring universal suffrage to Hong Kong residents within five years. During a telephone interview last week, Leong talked with NEWSWEEK's Melinda Liu about his quixotic race and whether Beijing should trust Hong Kong's residents with free elections. Excerpts:

LEONG: On the last two occasions when the Chief Executive was determined, there was no debate. There was no way the public could be involved. The best way to expose the unfairness of the current system is to really participate in it and highlight what is so unreasonable about it. We [also] hope to give Hong Kong people a reason once again to be interested in local politics.

No. Not because I'm not serious, but because of the way [the system] is set up. [But] we certainly have achieved [what many consider] a miracle by having secured more than 100 nomination votes to qualify me to be a formal candidate.

My participation will not be judged by whether I become the new occupant of Government House. We'll be judged by whether I can bring about a more cohesive society; by whether we succeed in giving the democratic movement an extra push; by whether the unreasonable and unfair nature of these elections is brought home to the people. I'll be judged by whether we can help solve some of the problems that have been haunting Hong Kong for nine or 10 years, by pointing to possible alternative policy initiatives.

Yes, I think so.

I don't see how [it] can help me. Beijing leaders must know very well that Hong Kong will not want to see an anointed Chief Executive. They should trust us for being capable of picking the right man for the job according to our assessment of who is better.

We go to the people for donations. I'm no match for Donald Tsang. His campaign sends letters putting a HKD50,000 [US$6,400] ceiling on single donations. People are queuing up outside his office trying to chip in--they see it as investing in the future. Now you can see Donald Tsang election slogans at bus stops, at tube stations, at the entrance to Cross Harbor Tunnel--they're everywhere. We don't have that kind of money. We just go to the people, organize street forums and ask for donations. We've set a budget of 3 million.

Try to introduce universal suffrage for the election of Chief Executive and all members of the Legislative Council.

If I were elected there would be a totally new culture in governing Hong Kong. Instead of making policy all by ourselves in air-conditioned offices in Central District and then seeking rubber-stamping from consultative bodies, I would strengthen the institutions that have made Hong Kong what it is today: rule of law, the totally apolitical civil service and a strong education system. There would be no monopolies, no price-rigging.

I've pledged to introduce a minimum wage and appropriate working hours--and town planning with sustainable development in mind instead of simply looking at maximizing the profit margin.

I also have that impression regarding China's 11th Five Year Plan. But it is regrettable that when Donald Tsang announced his action plan in response to the 11th Five Year Plan he only picked up the economy bit. He seems to have forgotten about sustainable development, cultural development and the like.

Nothing in the immediate term. But you mentioned the Beijing leadership's interest in sustainable development. That's an encouraging development and something that Hong Kong should learn from the motherland. Instead [Tsang] is still talking about making more jobs by building more infrastructure--roads, bridges and so on. I just don't see any mileage in creating more jobs by relying on hard infrastructure like that. Even on the mainland they are already talking about building soft infrastructure. It seems our incumbent Chief Executive has missed this completely. I don't know how many more bridges you can build.