• Wed
  • Oct 1, 2014
  • Updated: 6:59am

Unlikely hero saves the girl (but can he save the day?)

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 June, 2010, 12:00am

This has got to rank as one of the most exciting - and unlikely - superhero stories of our times.

A top female politician gambles big and loses spectacularly. Just when it seems she is done for and nothing can save her, in swoops her arch rival - the one she was trying to beat in the first place - and carries her off to safety.

What a script! Who wrote the screenplay? And - most important - what happens next?

Earlier this year, one of the founders of the Civic Party, barrister Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, announced that the party had decided to do something quite unexpected: it would leapfrog over its closer ideological partner the Democratic Party and form a temporary alliance with the more radical League of Social Democrats. Five sitting lawmakers from the two parties - one from each geographical constituency - would resign to force a series of by-elections that would constitute a de facto referendum on the pace of democracy.

The alliance declared that a turnout of over 50 per cent would prove that the people of Hong Kong wanted much faster progress than outlined in the government's political reform package.

The scheme was criticised by many, including me. Then it effectively collapsed and became a pointless exercise when what are loosely called the 'pro-government' parties decided - with the help of some guidance from the central government's liaison office in Sai Wan - to boycott the whole affair. The alliance lowered the turnout that would constitute 'victory' - ultimately to 25-30 per cent. By any measure, the final turnout of 17 per cent was a disaster. The Civic Party lost all credibility and the league confirmed its reputation as political spoilers.

By contrast, the people of Hong Kong once again demonstrated their political maturity by not taking part in a charade. They want a meaningful say, and are not impressed by gesture politics. Could that have been the end of Eu's political career? Quite possibly - but suddenly, to everyone's surprise, the Chief Executive's Office offered a one-on-one, televised debate between her and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. Saved from oblivion in the nick of time. Superman had struck again and the falling woman had been rescued.

But wait, what was going on in that separate arena? First, moderate democrats were talking to the government about possible amendments that would allow them, reluctantly, to support the reform package. Then they decided to talk to Beijing directly: why talk to the monkey when the organ grinder himself is available?

The talks in Sai Wan seemed to be edging towards a possible deal that would secure passage of the government bill. Then, suddenly, the televised debate proposal knocked the stuffing out of the moderates, completely undercutting them.

They had tried to be reasonable yet were left out; the hardliners, with their all-or-nothing approach, got the high-profile political prize - going head-to-head with the chief executive. To protect their own position as guardians of the public's democratic future, the moderates must now harden their stance; they have already demanded participation in the debate.

Getting an agreement now, in this atmosphere of renewed distrust, is going to be even harder. This was all easily foreseeable, yet it appears not to have been foreseen. Perhaps Superman's cape blew up in the wind and obscured his vision.

Or possibly - just possibly - someone was fed up with all the focus on Sai Wan and wanted to remind all concerned that the occupant of Upper Albert Road was still a power to be taken into account. Kryptonite permitting, of course.

Mike Rowse is a retired civil servant and an adjunct professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong

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