HK could do with Obama's 'can do' spirit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 November, 2008, 12:00am

If there have been serious questions about the continuing supremacy of the United States in the world, the election of Barack Obama has laid those doubts to rest, at least for now.

No change of government has enthused more people in more countries than the ascent of Senator Obama to power. The symbolism of the US electing its first black president, the victor's message of hope and change and his 'yes, we can' spirit transcend cultural and political boundaries.

Amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Senator Obama's success has brightened the mood of many around the world. Hong Kong is no exception.

Local Chinese-language newspapers gave prominent, and largely positive, coverage to his victory, with headlines quoting his catchphrases and his statement in his victory speech on Tuesday night that 'change has come to America'.

Few have underestimated the challenges facing the president-elect, who, in that speech, sought to manage expectations by saying it might take one year, or even one term, to get things done.

Still, Senator Obama's rise has demonstrated the sheer power of hope for change in the United States.

Hong Kong people watched the finale of the two-year-long election campaign with mixed feelings. There is still room for doubt about the substance of an Obama presidency and whether his policies will help stabilise the US economy and thus return the global economy to healthy growth.

At the same time, Senator Obama's speech and that of his Republican rival John McCain, in which he conceded defeat and offered his support to the next administration, fully demonstrated the strengths of democratic elections. There is hope that the passion unleashed during the election campaign will be channelled into forging a stronger sense of common purpose among the electorate.

Yet Hongkongers watching the drama unfold could not help feeling that democracy seems to be so near, yet still so far for them, given that the earliest date we can elect our leader is 2017. And that was not the only thing making people feel glum.

The violent clashes between protesters and police in Taipei during the visit of Chen Yunlin , the most senior mainland official to set foot on Taiwanese soil since 1949, show that hopes of cross-strait peace being achieved any time soon are unrealistic.

With the row over alleged mis-selling of Lehman Brothers minibonds by local banks dragging on, there are fears the frustrations and anxiety of investors who lost billions may spill over into anger and despair.

In a sign of their desperation, some investors have urged the central government to intervene to secure the return of their money.

At the Legislative Council, government officials and lawmakers were locked in a tussle over how long the levy on foreign domestic helpers should be suspended. Two years, as the government insists, or five? Or should it be abolished?

Meanwhile, news of a wave of company layoffs and pay cuts dented confidence in the city's economic prospects.

Senator Obama may have fired up millions of US citizens with his mantra of 'yes, we can', but in Hong Kong a feeling of doom and gloom and a sense of futility have set in.

Admittedly, government leaders and opinion makers are obliged to tell people the truth, however grim it may be. But a balance must be struck to rekindle a feeling of hope and nurture the 'can do' and positive thinking that people will need if they are to weather the economic storm.

Realistically, there may be little that people can do to reverse the downward spiral of the economy or, on a personal level, recoup the losses they have incurred in the stock-market meltdown.

But as they enter a winter of despair, they can still hold out hope that spring will not be far away.