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Rent-a-mob on the road to rancour
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Pro-government rallies are like a peculiar Hong Kong kaleidoscope. The longer you stare at them, the stranger they look.
Pro-establishment organisers taking their support of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to the streets may well be congratulating themselves on money well spent (quite literally). The rallies, after all, did serve to dilute the impact of the New Year's Day anti-Leung rally, which proved to be significantly larger than expected. Theirs was a cunning propaganda stunt.
But they are playing a dangerous game if they think this represents a sensible way forward. For various reasons pro-government rallies may prove counterproductive; there are good reasons why they are so rare elsewhere.
Their claim to represent the "silent majority" in the face of what they insist are noisy, unrepresentative and agenda-ridden attacks from those against Leung now looks pretty shabby. The turnout - estimated by police at just 8,000 - hardly bolsters that claim. Courting the "silent majority" - a fluid, bipartisan mass at the best of times - is tricky.
Then there is the lurch off the high road. At various times the pro-government forces are able to make ground, in some quarters at least, with their concerns that Hongkongers protest too easily, that the political scene here is far too radicalised for the sake of its own development. Start deploying precisely the same tactics - and fuel them with cash - and suddenly you're riding the back road to rancour. But most dangerous of all is the risk that the pro-government sector will start, again, to believe its own propaganda. This risks further stifling very necessary internal debates.
Whatever the flaws of the anti-Leung movement, there are important messages about the need for integrity and better governance that must be heeded.
Pro-government rallies ultimately only serve to highlight the tragic flaw in Hong Kong's system - one that gives elected legislators no chance of power and those in power, such as the chief executive and his team and the civil servants, no direct mandate from the people. More democracy, better policies and inclusiveness are the only rational way around such hazards, not rent-a-mob manoeuvring.