Tsang shows he's still driving the reform bus

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2010, 12:00am

After the contentious Legislative Council by-elections last month, the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong took the unprecedented step of conducting formal talks with members of the Democratic Party and the pan-democratic camp on the city's constitutional reform.

Public opinion has mostly supported the historic talks, but some have questioned whether the liaison office has replaced the administration to lead the discussions on political reform and is playing the role of a second governing body in Hong Kong.

To prove that the administration is still in the driver's seat, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is actively promoting the government's constitutional reform package. First, he challenged one of the opposition leaders, Civic Party chief Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, to a televised debate this month. Then, he led his team of senior officials in a city-wide street campaign - 'Act Now' - to publicise his message and lobby for public support.

The city's silent majority seems to favour passage of the government proposal to pave the way for universal suffrage elections for the chief executive in 2017 and all the legislature in 2020. Tsang hopes his campaign can help break their silence. It seems that the administration has not given up the leadership role in the reform fight: Tsang is determined to go directly to the people to explain the significance of electoral progress.

Those who have been excluded from the landmark TV debate have made claims that sound like sour grapes. Meanwhile, the Civic Party is still arguing over the format of the debate, demanding that there should be a public audience.

It seems to have forgotten the meaning of an open debate. The event is to allow Hong Kong citizens to better understand the pros and cons of passing or rejecting the reform package. There is no need for a live audience; the entire process will be witnessed on television by many of Hong Kong's 7 million people.

When the government first launched its 'Act Now' campaign, some senior officials were accused of not being responsive enough when dealing with the public. Their awkwardness is understandable because many of them had never before dealt with the public face to face.

But Civic Party legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan was being unreasonable when she accused the administration of interfering with the editorial independence of RTHK by announcing the government campaign in its Letter to Hong Kong segment. Some even criticised the government for abusing public resources. These are all nonsensical comments. The electoral reform package, like the idling engine debate, is a government policy proposal. Thus, there is absolutely nothing wrong with publicising it to let the people understand it better. After all, other electronic media outlets are also obligated to provide a platform for the administration to promote public policies.

The most absurd comment came from the Hong Kong Journalists Association, which criticised the government campaign for being secretive, and the administration irresponsible, for not divulging full details of its community visits.

The campaign launch was a public activity, so there was no need to set up media arrangements in advance. Maybe some reporters want everything to be pre-arranged, like the press conference by the liaison office's deputy director Li Gang after the ice-breaking talks, when the office limited what the media could ask.

The association complained about the intrusion of press freedom afterwards, but why didn't we hear it criticise those media organisations which went along with the arrangement?

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk