How Hong Kong's democracy battle has been reduced to a laughing stock

Michael Chugani says some democracy activists in Hong Kong have reduced what should be a noble cause to a laughing stock

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 August, 2013, 2:31am

Compare the way our democracy battle was fought back in the days of Martin Lee Chu-ming and the late Szeto Wah to how it is being fought now. Back then, it came across as a noble goal with popular backing. And now? Clownish is a good way to describe it.

Think of modern-day democracy struggles and Aung San Suu Kyi springs to mind. One woman who faced impossible odds against Myanmar's military dictators. The stoical way she pursued her cause earned her international admiration.

Don't expect international admiration for the way we are conducting our fight for democracy. There is nothing stoical about hurling bananas and obscenities at government officials. Other than the annual June 4 vigil and the July 1 march, little else portrays our pursuit of democracy as dignified. The struggle for democracy is supposed to unite the people against those who deny it to them. But ours divides more than unites the people.

Unlike most democracy struggles, ours has never been defined by imprisonments, torture or house arrests. The fear of such repression quickly receded when Beijing kept its end of the handover bargain. We should be thankful our democracy leaders do not have to negotiate with their adversaries from behind prison bars. They negotiate at lunches and dinners, as we saw when democracy leaders had face-to-face sit-downs with the liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming at the Legislative Council and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying at Government House.

They are free to express their views in the media and through loudhailers at street protests without fear of arrest. Yet our democracy leaders are allowing the pursuit of their goal to be defined by divisions, vendettas, childish theatrics and weak leadership.

We have now reached a point where our more radical democracy leaders equate the pursuit of democracy with the downfall of C.Y. Leung. Surely, they must understand that even if Leung falls tomorrow, democracy will not magically take over. On the contrary, agitating for his removal would further unsettle mainland leaders who are already jittery over the direction of our democracy debate. The more spooked they become, the higher the chances they would either delay or downgrade the kind of democracy we end up with.

Yet some are using the cause to fuel the perception that Leung is a failed leader with a corrupt team and should go. The jury is still out on whether Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po and Leung confidant Barry Cheung Chun-yuen corruptly used their high positions. The perception that Franklin Lam Fan-keung had abused his position as an executive councillor had already stuck by the time the Independent Commission Against Corruption cleared him of wrongdoing, thereby killing his political career.

In our warped quest for democracy, we are now even questioning the right of a retiring policeman to free speech just because he had supported his former colleagues at a rally. We have allowed perception to hijack reality. That makes our struggle for democracy anything but noble.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host.