Will pan-democrats’ scare tactics and threats still work as Carrie Lam makes her mark?
Andrew Fung calls on moderate pan-democrats to review their strategy amid waning support and confidence in their camp, as they face a more capable Beijing and a Hong Kong administration presenting a smarter, more pragmatic image
Following the recent disqualification of four of their own from the Legislative Council, the pan-democrat camp laid out conditions for making peace. They threatened that unless the government was determined to “untie the knots”, relations would not be normal, and it could not be business as usual in Legco.
When news leaked last month that Christine Choi Yuk-lin, from the “pro-Beijing” Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, would be appointed undersecretary for education, the pan-democrats accused the government of “starting a war”, and tried unsuccessfully to organise opposition to block the appointment.
After the government’s joint checkpoint plan for the West Kowloon terminus was announced, pan-democrat leaders raised exaggerated fears that the arrangement might set a precedent for applying mainland legal jurisdiction over the venue of a future demonstration event, like Occupy Central, and that Hong Kong people might be afraid of being arrested by mainland law enforcers if they went near the terminus.
No doubt, there is a general mistrust and dislike of the central government among pan-democrat supporters and many young people in Hong Kong. Tactics to spread fear and make threats are commonly used by political parties all over the world. But the local political situation is changing.
After the turmoil of the past five years under the Leung Chun-ying administration, there is now a prevalent wish and expectation among the people for society to get back to normal and for peace to resume.
The former “militant” chief executive is gone and the radical political forces are greatly weakened, and have even dissipated after successive disqualifications, court cases and jailings.
There is also a general sense of frustration and bewilderment, as well as a lack of direction, among strong supporters of the opposition parties. The people have not “risen up” as expected. Only a small number joined recent demonstrations, and very few have showed up outside the courts or police stations to support radicals facing trial and Occupy leaders facing prosecution.
Pan-democrats are now facing a seemingly more capable and efficient new administration under Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is determined and has been quick to prove that her leadership style is different from Leung’s.
In just over a month since being sworn in, Lam and her cabinet officials have been acting fast in suggesting some new, sensible and practical ideas to solve problems, like the HK$5 billion earmarked for education funding and the proposed collaboration with NGOs to provide renovated subdivided flats for underprivileged families. They have also been swift in handling urgent issues to prevent them developing into crises, as seen in the case of the overstretched public hospital services and the shorelines being smothered by hundreds of tonnes of crystallised palm oil.
The new administration has succeeded in projecting an initial image of a pragmatic, caring, proactive, problem-solving, no-nonsense and efficient government.
Lam has so far shown a certain degree of political shrewdness by striking the right balance in responding to sensitive issues of “one country, two systems”. She said she would convey public concerns to the central government over the checkpoint co-location issue, but that her administration “will not overturn” the plan.
Watch: Carrie Lam inspects the first train delivered for the high-speed link
Responding to the recent remarks of a Beijing official, that opposition forces have caused chaos in Hong Kong, Lam said she would respect the checks and balances in the system but hoped to bring about better coordination between the executive and legislative branches.
It is, of course, too early to say that the new administration will not make big mistakes or foolish remarks at some point, which the opposition parties can jump on to reassert the moral high ground. After all, Lam faces many tough tasks, including national education, Article 23, negotiating with vested interests in the New Territories to find land for public housing, and reforming the government system and operations to better adapt to the changing world.
If these issues are not handled well, her administration will get bogged down.
Time and again, events on the mainland have added fuel to the “red scare” among people in Hong Kong and consolidated the pan-democrats’ support base. Similar events may occur in future. A few pan-democratic academics and radicals openly predict and hope for chaos on the mainland and the collapse of the communist-led government, which they hope might give pro-independence forces a chance to develop in Hong Kong.
But any reasonable person in the world would hope for the stability and continued progress of China, or else the whole world would be in deep trouble.
Pan-democrat leaders should realise they are now dealing with an increasingly capable and confident central government, as well as a seemingly smart and efficient administration under Carrie Lam.
Beijing is obviously determined to support her administration, to enable it to become successful and popular, and has started to quicken steps to foster the further economic development of Hong Kong, as seen in reports from Lam’s recent four-day visit to the capital.
It would be unfair to say that moderate pan-democrat leaders do not wish to make peace with the Lam administration or set up communication channels with Beijing. But they will need to review the changing political situation and ask themselves the following questions.
First, can their traditional tactics of fear and threats be effective any longer?
Second, radicals in their camp have dug their own grave by committing foolish and childish mistakes when taking their Legco oaths. Where would a blind allegiance to “unity” with these radicals lead the whole pan-democratic camp?
Finally, what sensible hope for the future of Hong Kong can moderate pan-democrats give their supporters?
Andrew Fung is chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute