Politicians must stop the horseplay and get down to real reform debate

Alice Wu is tired of the scuffles and meaningless quarrels over definitions of words that pass for debate on political reform here in HK

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 2:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 2:46am

If Christmas can be said to be a season of institutionalised hope, the Lunar New Year is surely one of institutionalised positive thinking, requiring everything said or done at this time to be in the spirit of goodwill and good luck. But, by the time objects are being hurled at people - assault camouflaged as political dissent - we know our days of positive thinking are over and that it's open season again for our politicians.

The more wishful-thinking among us might have hoped that the Year of the Horse would provide a needed burst of speed to get our political reform going. Unfortunately, by the look of the scuffles that broke out during last week's Occupy Central event, this is unlikely to happen.

The "fascist" disruption - as the Democrats described the protest by some members of the People Power group - underlined the unfortunate and inopportune rift in the pan-democratic camp, a reopening of the old wounds first inflicted in 2010 during the last round of political reform. More than that, the scuffle shed light on the extent of the reform challenge.

Histrionics have marred the wide-ranging discussions that should feature in our reform debate. When objects fly, conversation stops; we're too busy ducking. Our politicians - from both sides of the divide - could have been working constructively to put their best ideas forward and trying to garner support - including Beijing's - for them. But instead, they have limited themselves to closing doors and to a shrinking vocabulary.

They appear to take the rest of us for simpletons. The terms that define our debate are so devoid of depth and breadth that all our politicians do is fight inconsequential battles over words: the most recent being ownership of the word "genuine".

We've sparred over "genuine universal suffrage" and "genuine democracy"; now add "genuine goodwill" to the mix. We may credit the chairman of the Labour Party for providing the latest exercise in pointlessness. Having decided he would not attend the reception that the central government's liaison office will host later this week, he needed only to decline the invitation.

Instead, he apparently felt he needed company - and called for a pan-democratic boycott of the event because the would-be hosts did not demonstrate genuine goodwill with the invitation.

At this stage in his long political career, he thought it wise to succumb to sophomoric notions of playground politics - "I'm not going to the party, so none of you can either". The event may be superficial, but if one does not want to go, there's no need to pressure others not to attend as well. This isn't kids' play.

The public discourse over political reform in Hong Kong is seriously lacking in diversity and dimension, because our politicians prefer to lash out instead of working through each challenge. Sadly, this poor excuse of an ideas marketplace robs us of the very essence of genuine politics.

For the Year of the Horse, let's demand that our politicians rise to the challenge and inject vitality and ingenuity into the way we conduct politics here.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA