Donald Tsang

Turning points

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 July, 2010, 12:00am

So, what now? Have we really turned a final corner or does another labyrinth lie ahead? You must have read the news: Beijing blinked. Our Ah Yeh up north - or 'grandfather', as Hongkongers like to call Beijing - saw sense in giving moderate democrats an inch on political reforms. Hong Kong could have become ungovernable otherwise, Ah Yeh was warned. But does an inch constitute a blink? Or did Ah Yeh sucker the moderates, giving them a minor victory designed to divide the democrats into rational and radical camps?

Divided the democrats are. Anybody can see that. They're trading abuse and going their separate ways. Radicals even jeered the moderates at Thursday's July 1 march. They're doing all this in the name of democracy. Go figure.

Someone on the internet even urged the mass rape of legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing. And all because her Democratic Party concluded that the rational thing to do for now is to settle for something, however little, from Ah Yeh instead of persisting with its all-or-nothing position. But, for that, she and her party are being branded turncoats. Who would have thought we'd come to this?

Not that any of this matters to our chief executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who's walking on air right now. His drubbing by arch-foe Audrey Eu Yuet-mee in a live TV debate saw his standing sink even further.

But then Ah Yeh came to the rescue with its last-minute nod to yield an inch to the moderate democrats. That got Tsang's political reform package - which most had treated as dead on arrival - passed in the legislature. Our church-going chief executive must have thought to himself that there really is a God.

But the pro-Beijing parties must be wondering why God has forsaken them. Taking their cue from Ah Yeh, they at first insisted there would be no ground given on reforms aside from what Tsang had proposed. But Ah Yeh's sudden reversal meant the pro-Beijing parties had to mimic the new tune of their masters, making them look even more like stooges.

They're wrong if they think God forsook them. He didn't get involved. That's because the communists up north don't believe in God.

People are now saying that, with the corner turned on political reforms, Tsang can finally focus on issues some consider even more pressing than democracy. Wouldn't you love him to clean up our filthy air, fix the wealth gap, take on the tycoons, tame home prices, punish unscrupulous property developers, grab greedy landlords by the neck, stop supermarket rip-offs with a real, not cosmetic, fair competition law, and stand up to the business lobby on minimum wage legislation?

Tsang can do all that. He's the chief executive. He could have done all that and still dealt with the democracy issue. It's called multi-tasking. But it takes a gutsy leader to stare down powerful vested interests.

Back to my question: have we turned the corner on reforms? No. There are plenty more corners to turn. The corner we just turned has radicalised the radical democrats even more. The moderates, having accepted that inch from Ah Yeh, must now prove that they are not traitors. They'll demand a mile next time. That means demanding the kind of democracy Beijing fears more than it understands. So don't wait for it.

Tsang certainly won't have to. It's out of his hands. He'll be gone in two years. Already people are saying he's a lame duck. There's a great misconception about lame ducks. People see them as incapacitated. That's wrong.

Outgoing leaders can either wait out their time or do all the things they didn't dare do. They don't have to worry about poll numbers, re-election, powerful lobbies and all those other things that stop them from doing what they believe in.

Tsang can say to hell with democracy, it's my successor's problem. With nothing to lose but a legacy to gain, he can spend his final two years being a populist leader, not a facilitator for the tycoons. It'll require guts. Dare he?

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster