Tang, the unwitting champion of democracy in Hong Kong?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 October, 2011, 12:00am


The very best thing that can happen for the development of democracy in Hong Kong would be the so-called 'election' of Henry Tang Ying-yen as chief executive, made even more exquisite by the rumoured appointment of Stephen Lam Sui-lung as his No 2 in the government leadership.

At a stroke, it would unambiguously confirm that the election process is a farce, that it is totally detached from the views of Hong Kong people, and that the central government has shown utter contempt for the special administrative region by anointing a candidate with no known views (aside from a string of platitudes), a thin track record of achievement and little more than a pleasant smile to recommend him. And any lingering doubts about the fulfilment of the promise of 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong' could be set aside.

Tang's singular achievement in government came when he was financial secretary and pushed through a measure to reduce taxation on wine, apparently prompted by the impressive wine collection in his possession.

Even when it came to the announcement of his resignation, Tang could not bring himself to make the obvious statement that he was running for the top job. Instead, he claimed he was still 'studying' the situation. He then stumbled his way through a carefully prepared but entirely uninspiring script, presumably written, as are all his public statements, by others. So unsure is he of his ability to make off-the-cuff remarks without blundering that he declined to take questions from reporters.

In Tang's favour, it is said that he has a pleasant personality and works well with colleagues. This is precisely the kind of thing that is always said when promoters of hopeless individuals are at a loss to find anything tangible to say about their achievements.

Tang's presumed anointment would be the third made from Beijing. The first ended so miserably that Tung Chee-hwa's term of office had to be cut short. So, albeit with some reluctance, the grey men from the North decided it would be safer to have an appointee who really knew how government worked and came from inside the machine. Thus, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was pushed into office, albeit with great reluctance in some quarters because he was viewed as a former British lackey who had only at the last minute done his very best to ingratiate himself with the new masters.

Nothing has been learned from past mistakes, not least because one-party states rarely admit to errors and tend to be disinterested in getting the best out of people. The priority is always to go for the option most likely to serve the interests of the party, not the people.

It might be imagined that, in these circumstances, the party would prefer one of their own, which could mean appointing Leung Chun-ying. But he tends to have ideas of his own and might even build his own power base that is not entirely reliant on Beijing's goodwill. Tang, on the other hand, has only one source of support: the people who will put him in office.

Like all the potential candidates, Tang has no experience of standing in a real election but he knows that the majority of the people who belong to the Election Committee will vote for whomever they are told to vote for.

A contender without the mandate of Beijing cannot win this election and, in this instance, little will be gained by the pro-democracy camp fielding a candidate for propaganda purposes because there can be no better propaganda than that which will arise as a witless and politically inept candidate is propelled to office.

Marxists used to believe that capitalism would collapse under the weight of its own contradictions; it was an ultra-left position that led to many mistakes. Therefore, it is somewhat risky to assume that Tang's 'election' will create a wealth of contradictions leading to pressure for the end of the non-democratic system in Hong Kong.

Yet, with Tang as chief executive, in tandem with the highly unpopular Lam as his main henchman, this could just be what it takes to cause the system to come crashing down.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur