Perils of politics

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 April, 1996, 12:00am

The exclusion of teachers opposed to the provisional legislature from this weekend's Preparatory Committee consultations has implications stretching far beyond the damage this does to the credibility of those discussions.

It is not just that the barring of the Professional Teachers' Union (PTU) suggests those who refuse to back Beijing's disbandment of the Legislative Council will be denied any say in Hong Kong's political future. The encouragement given to a tiny dissident faction within the union also suggests China has no intention of dealing with its leadership in any capacity.

If that is so, the PTU can expect to have difficulty establishing a dialogue with the Beijing-appointed Special Administrative Region government, even over mundane educational matters. That would leave the union with no means of protecting the professional interests of its 62,000 members.

Such de-facto disenfranchisement of the vast majority of local teachers is partly the result of Beijing's hardline policies. But it is also because of a political system which, in the absence of real democracy, thrusts a heavy political burden on to local professional and business bodies.

That system already exists, in the form of functional constituencies and government advisory bodies. After 1997 it will become even more important, as the Basic Law lays great stress on a consultative system of government and offers limited scope for the further development of democracy.

Some groups have already experienced the hazards of shouldering such a political burden. The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce was almost torn apart by a battle for control of its Legco seat. The Law Society has yet to heal the bitter divisions which emerged during the Court of Final Appeal debate.

These bodies can hardly abdicate their political roles since they represent their only means of influencing government policy. But they should never be forced to choose between the professional and political interests of their members.

The present administration has been scrupulous not to put them in such a position. It can only be hoped the post-1997 government will recognise the importance of maintaining that tradition. To penalise the PTU over its opposition to a provisional legislature would shatter the system of government envisaged by the Basic Law.