Confrontation lowers the bar for all
Confrontational politics rarely yield progress. The government of the North Korea has certainly got that down to a tee: provoke, taunt, and threaten. And inside our Legislative Council, we have the screaming, banana-throwing, glass-knocking League of Social Democrats, who, for the past year, have been burning taxpayer money with their regular disruption of Legco sessions.
So no one should be surprised when a recent Chinese University survey revealed record low public satisfaction with our lawmakers' performance. With little done during the last session, the league's fascination with political showboating has left the public with little more than a mere spectator-like relationship with lawmakers.
Worse yet, that brand of politicking has left our government with little to do. As former US senator H. L. Richardson pointed out in his book Confrontational Politics, confrontationists put non-confrontationists at a competitive disadvantage. As a result, our officials have clammed up and disengaged - a reflex response that has unfortunately carried over into public policies and public-engagement exercises.
Take, for example, the consultation on the new Wan Chai ferry pier and helipad that former Legco and Exco member Bernard Chan mentioned on these pages not long ago. The government didn't consult the public on whether we liked the idea; instead, the government made the decision and only left the colour scheme (brown or white?) for public input. And with that attitude, it is safe to assume that the upcoming consultation on the third phase expansion of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will be just more of the same: what colour would you like it in? Not, do you want it all?
Faux-consultations fail to placate our confrontationists, and with the mother of all consultations - constitutional development - coming up (again), nothing will be achieved if the government plans to treat it the same way as the ferry pier.
It doesn't help when members of the pan-democrat camp have been seriously considering league chairman Wong Yuk-man's by-election ruse to counter any government proposal that doesn't say 'universal suffrage by 2012' - an impossibility that will result in a repeat of the government's defeat in 2005. If the league is able to carry it off by convincing the rest of the pan-democrats to back its ploy, any hopes of 'a step forward' in our democratic development will go down in flames.
And we will then be doomed to go back to square one, when progress - a 'middle-of-the-road option' that is a step away from what we have now and a step towards universal suffrage - is what we desperately need in order to have universal suffrage by 2017 for the chief executive and by 2020 for the legislature without violating the Basic Law. Gridlock, however dramatically or sophisticatedly played, yields no progress at all.
But if what the world witnessed in Pyongyang last week - former US president Bill Clinton bringing two detained journalists home - is possible, then a solution can indeed be found to our current political state of affairs.
Just as it took months of engaging, communicating and negotiating to allow for the former president's final orchestration of the rescue mission, it will take the resolve of our government, academics, community leaders, and even those considered liberal 'loyalists' to engage, communicate and negotiate with the pan-democrats to give constitutional development a chance.
It is time to replace our politics of confrontation with reconciliation and engagement politics that will prove advantageous to both the government and the opposition. Allowing room for disagreement without all the nonsense 'in your face' politics may be the first step in finding a better and more effective political paradigm for Hong Kong.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA