Leadership matters in the fight for democracy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 5:34am

Dr Benny Tai Yiu-ting of Occupy Central likes to cite Martin Luther King. So it's worth remembering that for King to have succeeded, he needed Lyndon Johnson. This is the second half of the history lesson that is often forgotten. Mandela had De Klerk. Now, perhaps, Aung San Suu Kyi has Thein Sein.

You often need a partnership between courageous leaders from opposing sides to make that breakthrough that will appear impossible to partisans.

Unfortunately, back in Hong Kong, you have many partisans but no real leaders from either side.

Name-calling, accusations and denouncing each other may make for good headlines. But someone needs to have an endgame in mind and plot how to get there.

There are claims that Beijing has a Plan B to replace Leung Chun-ying as chief executive. But the central government must realise that our political crisis is not with the governor, but with governance. It's the system that is being called into question, not the person at the top. Leung does not seem to realise that he is opposed not for specific policies but for being there at all. It's the very legitimacy of his position, not what he does, that is being challenged.

Beijing wants him to focus on the economy and livelihood issues, thinking democratic reform could take a backseat if he resolves those issues. But from Hong Kong, he only has one mandate that will help preserve his place in history. It is to resolve our constitutional struggle for full democracy. For him to deny that this was his responsibility, as he did after he delivered his first policy address, fundamentally discredited him. Democracy is the biggest elephant in the room, and you cannot ignore it even if you try.

When a community or at least a substantial part of it demands full democracy, you can't really argue against it. But you do have a responsibility to point out the difficulties and the obstacles in going from A to B. This calls for leadership from both sides. Leung is in a unique position to explain to Hong Kong people Beijing's legitimate demands on the city. A real leader from the pan-democratic camp will have to convince Beijing that democracy does not mean opposition. At the moment, we have no King, Mandela or Suu Kyi; Johnson, De Klerk or Thein Sein.