Pan-democrats should run for top job, says Fred Ma

Ex-minister Fred Ma insists city must move forward rather than be distracted by matters such as teacher's verbal abuse of police

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 7:41am

Beijing should let pan-democrats run for chief executive in the 2017 race, said former commerce minister Frederick Ma Si-hang in a rare, wide-ranging interview with the South China Morning Post.

Ma also voiced his opposition to the Occupy Central movement, and said he believed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying could overcome his present difficulties.

Ma, who left the government five years ago for health reasons, remains the man for all seasons in the city's politics, able to move easily between the divergent political camps. He has rarely spoken publicly since leaving office, but talked to the Post this week on various hot political issues.

The soft-spoken community leader stressed the need for Hong Kong to move forward from the present political controversies and focus on important issues that can help the city regain its competitive edge. Too much energy, he said, had been spent on trivial issues that distracted the city from bigger goals. He pointed to the recent controversy triggered by primary school teacher Alpais Lam Wai-sze's profanity- laced outburst at police officers.

Some criticised what they saw as a high-handed approach by Leung in handling the incident. Ma said he could well understand why Leung took a strong stance against the teacher. Ma said that despite the tense political environment, he was confident Leung would "pull through", even suggesting tongue-in-cheek that he would challenge his friends to a bet on the outcome.

Ma said effective political reform could act like "medicine to cure" the present political climate. Barring pan-democrats from running in the next election would only weaken the effectiveness of reform, he argued. "After all … [Democrat] Albert Ho Chun-yan was allowed to run [last year]," he said.

"So if we don't [allow] it to happen again this time, it would be going backwards, and the [electoral system] will face more challenges. We can't … walk backwards [because] it will make the medicine less effective.

"The central government doesn't need to be too worried," Ma added, "because I believe Hongkongers are sensible. They wouldn't choose someone who could harm the city's relationship with the [central government]."

Ma said he was against University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting's Occupy Central, which calls for at least 10,000 people to block roads in Central next July as a last push for democracy. "I can understand [the organisers'] frustrations because they have been fighting for so many years," Ma said. "But they should also remember that fighting for democracy is a very long process … so you cannot say 'Hey, I have been fighting for 20 years, and that's enough. I'm going to the extreme.' That's not quite right."

Ma said he recalled the hard times his family endured in the 1967 riots that claimed 51 lives. He said he could still remember the acrid smell of tear gas, and the fear of people during curfew.

"Having seen [what happened in 1967], we are very fearful of chaos in the city," Ma said, though he stressed that he did not mean Occupy Central would necessarily lead to riots. "Everyone wants democracy because everyone wants to participate."