Beyond words

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 May, 2010, 12:00am

We have seen a variety of political dramas since the controversial Legislative Council by-elections two weeks ago. First, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen took the initiative on a radio interview to talk about the government's determination to win public support for its constitutional reform package. Then Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen took the reform promotion to a secondary school. This week, the deputy director of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, Li Gang , met pan-democrats who did not support the by-elections and are willing to have a dialogue. These ice-breaking, formal talks have allowed the two sides, for the first time, to discuss the city's political development.

The most shocking news was the chief executive's invitation to Audrey Eu Yuet-mee - the Civic Party leader and 'five district referendum movement' spokeswoman - to a live, televised debate on June 17 on the reform package. Tsang hopes the debate will help the public better understand the arguments for and against the reform package so they can judge the issue for themselves.

Tsang's challenge is a courageous move that has been mostly welcomed by the public. We ought to applaud him for putting the public interest first, to clear the path so that we can move our political development to the next level.

But it's baffling to see Eu, who gladly accepted the invitation at the start, suddenly change her tone and criticise Tsang for not allowing an on-site audience or questions from any third parties, and calling him a third-rate politician. Eu has to understand that this is not a campaign-related debate like the one between Tsang and Alan Leong Kah-kit for the chief executive election in 2007. The debate will allow both participants to argue their points followed by an exchange of questions and answers.

No matter what the government's motives are for the debate, it will provide a rare political opportunity for both sides to openly explain their thoughts and concepts on Hong Kong's future political development. As long as it is conducted in a fair and open atmosphere, and the participants act in the best interest of Hong Kong and behave in an honourable and fair manner, the truth will come out eventually and the people will know what's best for the city's future.

The debate is the only way we can achieve a breakthrough in the political reform stalemate. The government is only trying to reset the political conditions in order to allow all parties to move forward on the issue. Isn't that what we want for Hong Kong?

Some members of the pro-establishment camp have turned against the administration by claiming that the debate has unnecessarily lifted the political status of their opposition, the Civic Party. People like Wong Kwok-hing - who still maintains the Cultural Revolution mindset that he must always disagree with the opposition - should understand the political strategy of stepping backwards as a way to advance.

What was surprising were comments from some of our political heavyweights such as Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai and Allen Lee Peng-fei. Fan said she sympathised with the Democratic Party for being sidelined by the government. It's laughable to see such blatant grandstanding from her. It would be hard not to believe that Fan was trying to score some political points in case there is even a slim chance of her running to replace Tsang.

Veteran political commentator Lee even warned that the central government might ban all debate on political reform in the community if there were no obvious progress soon. How absurd: Lee should understand what consequences that would provoke and the negative impact it would have on Beijing.

This is a historic milestone for Hong Kong's political development. Yet, instead of joining hands to make the most of this extraordinary event, many politicians, from left, right and centre, are trying to grandstand and promote themselves. This political farce is not constructive. We should put a stop to it.

The question is: do we want to join this new democratic voyage of discovery or sink the vessel even before it sets sail?

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator