Donald Tsang

Tsang reinforces the 'us and them' mentality

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 March, 2008, 12:00am

Formed in 1998, the Commission on Strategic Development was revitalised by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2005, when he explained his strategy of 'people-based' government that aims to deliver good governance.

'To achieve strong governance, the government needs to secure a broader and firmer support base,' he said in his first policy address. Membership of both the Executive Council and the commission would be increased, he added.

Yet those promises turned sour even before Mr Tsang had completed his first term as Hong Kong's leader. In a frank admission about the naked truth of politics, he told legislators, during one session, that he would forge intimate ties with his allies and keep a distance from his foes.

Any hopes that Mr Tsang would switch tactics and try to appease the pan-democrats, after he was re-elected, have been dashed.

Last week's appointment of members to a new task group on constitutional development under the commission is a case in point. To few people's surprise, former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee was appointed to the group, while calls to include former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang fell on deaf ears.

Mrs Chan defeated Mrs Ip in the Legislative Council Hong Kong Island by-election last December.

Mrs Chan has said that she is keen to bridge the divide between the government and the legislature. After her election victory, she said she hoped to work with the government for the well-being of society.

It is not surprising that the government's snub of Mrs Chan has not caused a stir. But it's not because people felt she was not qualified to sit on the body, or that they doubted whether she could play a useful role.

Rather, it is because of a growing perception that government bias towards its supporters, when appointing members to advisory bodies, is just the norm.

Pundits have pointed out that only six of the 30 members of the task group are from the pro-democracy camp, with the remaining 24 seen as pro-establishment figures. Results of previous geographical constituency elections show that pro-democracy candidates gained a total of between 55 per cent and 60 per cent of the vote.

It is naive to expect the composition of any government-appointed advisory body to mirror society's political spectrum. Mr Tsang, like many veteran public administrators who worked in the colonial government before the handover, knows well how to use the power of appointment to maintain effective governance.

By co-opting elite people from key sectors of society to the establishment, the government is hoping to compensate for its lack of a popular mandate in policymaking.

The exclusion of Mrs Chan and the marginalising of the pan-democrats from the political task group, however, show that feelings of enmity remain strong among the Tsang administration towards the pan-democrats.

This is despite signs of moderation in the pro-democracy group over universal suffrage following the decision of the National People's Congress Standing Committee on a timetable for 'one person, one vote'.

The two major pro-democratic parties - the Democrats and the Civic Party - have not rejected the NPC decision, which gave the green light to universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017.

And Mrs Chan has indicated there was room for compromise in the 2012 electoral method if it could lead to universal suffrage in 2017.

So, the government has missed a chance to improve relations with the pan-democratic camp. Worse, it will deepen the perception that the 'friend-foe divide' remains lodged in the minds of Mr Tsang and his team.

Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.