Leung Chun-ying

C.Y. Leung should see hope in city's under-represented moderates

Bernard Chan says Leung's only hope is to appeal to the moderates

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2016, 8:46am

I recently read a shocking quote from a top member of Mitt Romney's team in the US presidential election: "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers." He admitted that his team would aim to mislead voters; after all, the rival Barack Obama camp had done the same.

Commentators noted during the 2012 race that false claims in negative TV adverts were less likely to be corrected or withdrawn than before. Campaigns can now get away with falsehoods.

The polarisation of the US electorate means that some voters might not even know a lie when they hear it, or refuse to believe facts.

People increasingly get their information from their own "echo chamber" of TV, radio talk shows and blogs. Conservatives watch Fox TV, while liberals watch comedy news shows - both are heavily biased. The US ends up with two separate electorates. Some commentators say Democrats and Republicans even mix less socially these days.

So some voters might be convinced that Obama is dangerous, un-American and leading the country down the road to "European socialism". Others, meanwhile, believe Romney was dedicated only to the 1 per cent of richest Americans and would eradicate basic welfare safety nets.

Watching from Hong Kong, I thought both candidates were probably more moderate than both their friends and enemies claimed. But the worst thing was the lack of the common ground needed for a serious debate.

Such a rigid bias is not new, and I am sure it is not confined to the US. Indeed, I think we have our own version of it here in Hong Kong.

Consider Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's problems. He campaigned offering a shift in emphasis of government policy towards the grass roots and the less well-off. Some conservative members of the business community became convinced and alarmed that he was a populist who would redistribute wealth and hurt business.

That was probably not surprising. However, in theory, a candidate like Leung should have won the approval of the broad range of people in Hong Kong who were concerned about the widening wealth gap and the economic and political power of some commercial sectors and other interests.

All sorts of people, from pro-welfare campaigners to labour rights activists and middle-class consumers, should have found his platform appealing.

But, as we all know, that did not happen - at least not for long. Just as Obama was thought by some to be foreign or Muslim, and Romney was considered sinister as a rich Mormon, Leung is viewed by many in Hong Kong as a communist.

He can promise to help Hong Kong's disadvantaged, to make homes more affordable, to improve quality of life, but it makes little difference.

The allegation that he is a communist overpowers his message. His denials fall on deaf ears.

So we get the strange situation where opponents dismiss a proposal to build more homes in the northeast New Territories as a plan to cede territory to Shenzhen. Any mention of the positive aspects of integration with the mainland is viewed as propaganda. Some media outlets make innuendoes about members of the administration in what look like clear attempts to damage reputations.

In the opposition echo chamber, the chief executive cannot be trusted, whatever he says or does. Even a proposal to raise welfare for the elderly poor is caught up in deep-rooted resistance.

Meanwhile, another group of people have their own echo chamber, in which Hong Kong must pursue integration, and "one country" must come before "two systems". The chief executive has to acknowledge their position as well and, needless to say, that compounds the problem.

The key audience in the US presidential race was the minority of undecided voters. I think Hong Kong has quite a large number of people who are not in an echo chamber and can see two sides of an argument.

Appealing to these people, who are almost certainly under-represented in the Legislative Council, is a challenge. But for the time being, they may be the only people willing to listen.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council