To foster harmony, change the system

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 July, 2006, 12:00am

The week leading up to the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover has become an annual battleground for pro-government forces and the pro-democracy camp.

Ever since the democrats succeeded in galvanising half a million people to march in opposition to the introduction of national security legislation three years ago, they have seen July 1 as a day to demonstrate their strength. That has forced the other side to mobilise to counter their influence. Time has passed but the intensity of the yearly contest has not subsided, as fundamental differences between them remain unresolved.

The past week has seen the two camps trying their best to woo people to their side. Jia Qinglin , chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, arrived to show Beijing's backing for the Hong Kong government. Demonstrating the central government's care for the city and its people, he presided over the signing of an agreement granting enhanced access to mainland markets for Hong Kong businesses in 10 sectors.

But it is the democratic camp that has stolen the show. Anson Chan Fang On-sang, the former chief secretary, has thrown her weight behind the democrats, whose leading members used to be her fiercest critics. Her support has boosted their morale. Since the democrats rejected the government's proposals to make the system marginally more democratic last year, their popularity has plunged and divisions in the camp have surfaced.

Whether the high-profile participation of Mrs Chan and members of her family will help boost turnout for this afternoon's march for democracy remains to be seen. Polls have shown the public's satisfaction with the central government has risen dramatically. Fifty-six per cent of respondents to an opinion poll were positive about Beijing's policy towards Hong Kong, up 20 percentage points from the same time last year.

By choosing this week to accept a long-standing invitation to appear on RTHK, Mrs Chan has drummed up support for the democrats at a critical moment. She has reminded Hong Kong people there is a need to build a truly harmonious society and have effective governance founded on democracy.

Her articulation of the community's democratic aspirations was an effective antidote to Mr Jia's plea for harmony. His message, echoed by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, was a familiar one. Reflecting Beijing's notion of Hong Kong as an economic, not a political city, he said Hong Kong people should put aside their differences and focus on economic development. Citing a phrase that encapsulates the Chinese way of tackling difficult issues, Mr Jia said the key was to seek common ground while maintaining differences.

As a way of handling a complex negotiation, it is certainly good to first address matters upon which everyone can agree. But the differences still have to be dealt with at some point. Arguably, Hong Kong people should not be putting their differences aside any more; they should be resolving them. That is only possible if we have an effective mechanism for doing so - by introducing representative government.

Indeed, nine years of practice have shown that Hong Kong's political system, as stipulated by the Basic Law, is a dysfunctional one. It is not good at resolving differences or providing leadership. That is hampering the city's drive to take the economy forward. Politics and economics must go together.

As a demonstration of pluralism, the peaceful rivalry between the pro-government forces and the pro-democracy camp over the past week and today is remarkable. For the good of Hong Kong, however, it would have been better if the two sides could have applied their energies to resolving their differences so they could join hands to have a bit of fun today. Unfortunately, there is no sign of that happening in the foreseeable future, and Hong Kong is the poorer because of that.


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