Pan-democrats' focus on democracy has let down Hongkongers

Michael Chugani says the pan-democrats' constant focus on democracy has been at the expense of livelihood issues such as housing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 3:04am

I have a confession to make. It didn't bother me one bit that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying gave zero importance to political reforms in his policy speech. What did upset me was that he gave no immediate hope to aspiring home-owners and people like me, who are at the mercy of landlords.

I have now reached a point where I care far less about Hong Kong achieving universal suffrage than having to pay nearly half my income in rent. How can it possibly excite me to be able to vote for the chief executive in 2017 when, by that time, my rent could be gobbling up most of my income?

Leung threw aspiring home-owners to the wolves with a speech that offered nothing to tame the absurd property market. His silence sent prices to even more absurd levels. And he drove the last nail into the coffin of people like me when he made clear he opposed rent controls. That gave Hong Kong's vulture landlords the all-clear to demand even more in preposterous rents. Doesn't he know that even people in squalid subdivided flats are being squeezed dry of their measly income by slum landlords?

I have another confession to make. I am beginning to feel the so-called pan-democrats are more to blame than Leung for Hong Kong's dismal housing situation. Leung has been in office for only six months. He inherited the shameful housing legacy of past administrations. But the pan-democrats have played the role of opposition for years. They squandered all those years on the single issue of democracy at the expense of all other issues.

Have you ever seen the pan-democrats unite to fight passionately for better housing, cleaner air, or an end to elderly people hauling cardboard boxes to survive? I have not. They have tunnel vision.

Hong Kong is drowning in livelihood problems but Democratic Party leader Emily Lau Wai-hing used her allotted time during a Legislative Council session with Leung to scold him for saying nothing about democracy in his policy speech. Poll after poll shows Hongkongers now care less about democracy than livelihood issues such as rising poverty. When will the pan-democrats wake up to that fact?

As an opposition, they have failed the people. Their obsession with democracy meant past administrations never felt real pressure to fix other pressing issues. Pressure, ironically, came from mainland leaders who ordered our leaders to deal with deep-rooted problems.

Governments everywhere become complacent unless under pressure to act. It is the job of the opposition to exert that pressure. Where was that pressure during the rule of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen? Why didn't the pan-democrats unite as an opposition to demand an end to caged homes, subdivided flats, rising poverty, and the absurdity of the property market? Instead of speaking with one voice, they feuded over how best to achieve democracy.

If the pan-democrats had done their job properly, we may not be facing so many urgent livelihood issues today. But because we are, it gives Leung the legitimacy to say democracy can wait its turn. I don't mind waiting. A drop in my rent is more important right now.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host.