A Goliath who can't be beaten

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 June, 2005, 12:00am

If anyone knows what it feels like to be flattened by a steamroller, it has to be Democratic Party leader Lee Wing-tat. Here is a man who wanted to stand up for a principle, but even as he was straightening up to do that, a speeding bandwagon knocked him over. Mr Lee understands the force that is keeping him from his principle. But he is adamant that if there is to be a contest, there must be more than one contestant. He remembers Tung Chee-hwa in 2002. Mr Tung regained his title as chief executive without even having to flatten anyone. Yet, he wore the celebratory smile of a boxer who had gone 10 rounds.

That is why Mr Lee is intent on having a proper contest this time, and is doing the fighting himself to make sure of that. Every time he is floored, he tries to stagger back onto his feet, imagining himself to be the David who is standing up to the Goliath that is Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. At this point, I should mention the other David, legislator and convicted fraudster Chim Pui-chung, whose clownish challenge is drawing chuckles from Mr Tsang's fighting machine.

That machine began throwing punches once Beijing let it be known it wanted Mr Tsang as our next leader. Casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun, who knows how to play his cards, was among the first to strike, saying what a capable leader Mr Tsang would make. Mr Lee then took a flurry of other blows from heavyweights like business tycoons Li Ka-shing and Henry Fok Ying-tung, who gushed with enthusiasm over Beijing's choice for our next leader. Government ministers, whose jobs will be decided by Mr Tsang, scrambled to praise his leadership qualities.

A knockout blow of sorts came when even legislator Albert Cheng King-hon - famous for his anti-Beijing jabs when he was a radio talk-show host - backed the central government's man, who happens to be his friend. While hitting the floor, Mr Lee took a painful punch from the woman dubbed the conscience of Hong Kong, retired chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, as she too joined Mr Tsang's corner. Down and dazed, Mr Lee knows what he is up against - the real Goliath that lurks behind Mr Tsang, a never-changing beast that once exerted brute control but has since learned to do it through smoke and mirrors. It is a Goliath that can summon tycoons and politicians at will. I honestly cannot remember a time when Mr Li, Mr Fok and all the other tycoons publicly sang the praises of Mr Tsang - until now, when he has Beijing's backing.

In fact, when Mr Tung sidelined Mr Tsang in the final years of his administration, there was largely silence, and even some satisfaction, from those who now admire his leadership skills. Man for man, Mr Tsang is clearly more qualified to become chief executive. His administrative skills are said to be excellent, and his ringside seat in the government has given him a good insight into the running of Hong Kong. But most importantly, he is Beijing's candidate. Mr Lee has none of these requirements. But again, I cannot remember that administrative skills and leadership experience were demanded of Mr Tung. Patriotism and Beijing's patronage sufficed.

All this, of course, has less to do with Mr Tsang than the system that is about to propel him to power. Such is the system that those who control it had little trouble changing the rules to test Mr Tsang's loyalty. If I were him, I would be mad. Why is a man who is supposedly so suited to being our next leader only being allowed to serve two years and not the full five? The tycoons have not said.

But Mr Tsang is chasing a dream, that of a man with humble beginnings who wants to touch the sky. Let the man have his dream. He has worked hard at it, and deserves it. But let him also remember that the dreams of so many others have been crushed by the same system that is about to make his come true.

Michael Chugani is editor-in-chief of ATV English News and Current Affairs