Malice in blunderland

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 May, 2010, 12:00am

For better or worse, the 'en masse resignation cum de facto referendum' political ploy has come and gone, and we are no closer to our democratic aspirations. But there is a HK$160 million lesson in this: just because someone calls an event 'en masse resignation', a 'de facto referendum' or an 'uprising', it doesn't make it so.

Too much talking muddles things up. My epiphany occurred a few months ago when a boy from my church, who attends primary school, asked me: 'How is it a 'resignation' if the 'resigned' are going to run for the same seats they plan to 'resign' from right after they 'resign' from them?' Eureka! His logic is so simple, and it makes perfect sense: they are not resignations, and the legislator-elects are due to be sworn in 'en masse' on Wednesday.

How about the de facto referendum? What happened yesterday was not a referendum - not in fact, theory or practice. The criterion of a 'single issue' was not fulfilled, and we had the problem of 'single issue, single position but two candidates' in one district. How, exactly, does 'vote yes or yes' work? Then we had a constituency with eight people on the ballot, running on weird platforms like getting rid of triads, prostitution and drugs. If the whole purpose was to let people choose one thing or the other, how can that choice be made? Most of us would probably prefer both more democracy and less of triads, prostitution and drugs at the same time. And how exactly does one vote away triads, et al?

Add that to our lingering confusion over what constitutes 'winning' the referendum. The goalposts have been moved so many times - with such bad logic - that it's all pig Latin to me. It is almost impossible to remember if the organisers have decided, finally, on a measuring stick. No one can be forced to run or not run in an election, meaning that without proper referendum legislation, there can be no de facto referendum.

Then there has been a lot of talk about Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing possibly resigning in order to cast a vote in the legislature if that's what it takes to pass a package of grave importance to Hong Kong. He had earlier vowed not to vote while presiding over the legislature. Then he said if an issue was important enough, he would resign out of principle - to live up to his own words (not the law) - in order to vote as an ordinary lawmaker. He first said this at the beginning of this year - so why all the outrage now?

Hong Kong's Basic Law does not ban the president from casting a ballot, so he could very well vote while presiding over Legco. It is outrageous to call a man of his word 'dishonest'. Tsang is accountable to his voters and considers it important to uphold a promise made to fellow legislators. Which way he votes is not the issue, and whether one likes his choice is irrelevant. He was only 'speaking hypothetically', he said. It would do his critics a lot of good to remember that his swing vote probably won't be needed, and - most important - democratically speaking, there is no right or wrong vote. There is, however, such a thing as the right principle: integrity means taking the high road, not simply doing as the pan-democrats please.

We can blame such crazy political crossfires on deep-rooted mistrust among our politicians, but that does not help us get out of our political rut. After spending HK$160 million, we should at least learn to call things what they are. For instance, it is deceitful when lawmakers agree to talk behind closed doors under the Chatham House Rule - agreeing not to reveal later who said what - only to have someone blab afterwards, as the pro-democrats did. And it is hypocrisy when the same people call the principle dishonest.

Our politics is dysfunctional because our chief executive and some legislators are not elected by universal suffrage (hence, we need to move forward); and because democracy, for some, has no room for differences of opinion - and therefore no room for negotiation, compromise and accord. A political culture that feeds off hypocrisy, thrives on conflict and insists on a perverted form of democracy will keep real democracy out of our reach.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA