Tim hamlett's hong kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2006, 12:00am

The July 1 public holiday is turning into a pleasant public ritual. In the morning those who wish to celebrate the handover gather at one place, enjoy some entertainment, walk to another place, and go for lunch. In the afternoon those who wish to lament the continuing absence of universal suffrage gather in another place, walk another route, and go for tea.

There appears to be no objection on either side to energetic people attending both events, and no reason in principle why someone might not wish to do so. No doubt different social circles are involved so this is, in practice, unlikely. The great question of the next day's press coverage is the numbers who turned up. This is a fruitful source of arguments because counting the numbers of people at public gatherings is not and cannot be an exact science, so there is never an authoritative figure.

This year the happy morning group were a little constrained in their efforts exaggerate numbers by the fact that most of their marchers had been in the Hong Kong Stadium, whose capacity is known. No such inhibitions affected the afternoon organisers, who claimed about twice the police figure, as march organisers usually do. In any case the figures do not mean much.

We do not know whether any marcher was a serious demonstrator, or went because his friends were going. Did he or she support the official line or slogan, or did he has other gripes to ventilate?

I enjoyed the contribution from the morning marcher who admitted receiving a small sum of money and snacks from her employer, the Bank of China, but stoutly insisted she would have gone anyway. Those left-wingers certainly know how to get a crowd out. The afternoon lot, meanwhile, seemed mesmerised by the performance of their secret weapon, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who had spent the previous week tickling RTHK's airwaves on behalf of the democratic cause.

I have doubts about the effect of this. Academics have laboured to detect a connection between media output and the behaviour of the citizenry. Generally they have laboured in vain.

The idea that four days of Mrs Chan rabbiting about democracy would have any effect other than persuading a lot of people to switch channels is extremely far-fetched.

That does not mean I have any objection to her doing it. Hong Kong people enjoy freedom of speech and retired civil servants are also people. We have all had plenty of time to discover that Mrs Chan is no longer the chief secretary. She has every right to campaign for the lost cause of her choice. I am less chuffed by what looks ominously like a growing consensus in the democratic camp that Mrs Chan, if not the official democratic candidate, should at least not be opposed if she decided to run. This will not do, people. The democratic candidate does not have to be able to run Hong Kong. He or she is going to lose anyway. The race is fixed and the result is known in advance. Under these circumstances it would be nice to have a democratic candidate for whom democrats can vote without holding their noses. This means a candidate with a record of work for democracy over a long period and a reputation for straightforwardness.

Mrs Chan's record of democratic endeavour, until her radio stint, consisted largely of Delphic hints dropped in unattributable interviews.

She has never run for a District Board, sat outside Government House on behalf of some doomed group, been threatened with arrest, pounded the pavements in search of campaign funds, been dragged off a coach by the police, been banned from China, exiled to Tokyo, asked to wear her T-shirt inside out or accused of treason.

While the people who were doing these things were doing them, Mrs Chan was rising smoothly through the corridors of power. She did not do this by radiating sweetness and light.

She did it by being a hard-faced colonial bureaucrat who was willing to do what the government had decided was necessary. After the handover she became a hard-faced post-colonial bureaucrat with similar inclinations.

It is not, though, a very fearlessly outspoken name. Years of information management have reduced Mrs Chan to the stage where if someone has not supplied her with a 'line to take' she makes one up for herself. So we get all these cutesy evasions about one step at a time and deciding later whether she's interested in running. Of course she's interested. A perfectly legal and understandable ambition. But not as the democratic candidate, thank you.