Democrats must turn crisis into opportunity

Mike Rowse says the democrats could do with some strategic thinking

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 June, 2013, 11:49am


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How the pan-democratic camp in general, and the Democratic Party in particular, miss the strategic thinking power of the late Szeto Wah. The present bunch struggle to be worthy of his legacy. Surveying the present political scene, Uncle Wah would have seen clearly several important factors in play.

First, a number of tycoons have never accepted in their hearts the surprise outcome of the chief executive election. Henry Tang Ying-yen was their man. But to their evident distress and discomfort, Tang fell at the last hurdle and suddenly there, out of the blue, came the outsider Leung Chun-ying.

Some simply recoiled and tried to think through how to live with the new situation. But others have joined together in a well-resourced attempt to undermine the new chief executive, to bring him down and, if possible, hound him from office. Who would replace him? Too difficult to say; obviously not Tang, just someone equally malleable - leave the details to another day.

Szeto would have asked himself why this small circle, so inimical to the overall interests of the pan-democrats, was so determined to attack Leung, and how the situation could be turned to advantage.

Secondly, Szeto would have seen the saga of unauthorised building works for the distraction it clearly is. A handful of minor improvements to the chief executive's house, some introduced by the previous owner anyway, and typical of those in many Hong Kong households: what precisely is the big deal? Even added together, how could they possibly be equated with Tang's enormous underground palace?

Yet, instead of focusing on their welfare agenda - more subsidised housing, better care for the elderly, improved educational opportunities - members of the pan-democratic leadership have queued up in front of the TV cameras and microphones to shout "scandal" as if this were the biggest political event since the arrest of the Gang of Four.

Two senior members of the camp took part in a radio discussion last week. They repeatedly called the chief executive a liar, quoting his 14-page explanation of the unauthorised works as proof. But when I challenged them to specify which facts outlined in the paper constituted a lie, one could not think of a single example. The other could only quote the discrepancy in the size of the blocked-off area - 320 sq ft as measured by Buildings Department officials after breaking through the wall, 200 sq ft as estimated by Leung while it was still inaccessible. So a poor guess is the same as a lie? For heavens' sake, how about a sense of proportion?

The sight of screeching harridans on the nightly news calling for Leung's resignation or impeachment does nothing to improve the democrats' image, either.

Thirdly, Szeto would have known from his study of Leung's election manifesto that, in many of the social and welfare areas, his agenda was not a million miles away from theirs. He would have asked himself how the democrats could secure more of the improvements they wanted by working with Leung instead of against him.

Finally, Szeto would have realised that, come rain or shine, Leung would be chief executive for the full five-year term. There is no way he will quit, nor will Beijing unload him, the fantasies of certain property developers notwithstanding. So Leung will be the top dog while a string of important political reform issues need to be addressed.

Might there be a way to turn co-operation on achieving Leung's domestic agenda into a wider deal on genuine democratisation? Szeto would at least have asked himself the question. Alas, his successors do not seem able to think beyond tomorrow's front-page headline.

The coming January 2 will be the second anniversary of Uncle Wah's death. As we gather with friends and family to welcome in the new year, let all lovers of freedom and progress imagine what might have been and raise a toast to absent friends.

Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.