Champions of Beijing's camp losing public opinion war on political reform

Albert Cheng says out-of-touch officials and the likes of Robert Chow have not only failed to persuade people, they are adding to the strife

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 September, 2014, 4:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 September, 2014, 1:16am

The authorities are waging a war against the pan-democrats in the court of public opinion in a bid to steamroller Beijing's highly restrictive nominating method for the next chief executive election in 2017 through the Legislative Council.

It is anybody's guess how much the Communist Party has spent on its so-called united front efforts in Hong Kong, but it must be a huge amount.

The Hong Kong government is expected to turn the unpopular decision by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress into a proposed amendment to the Chief Executive Election Ordinance early next year. A two-thirds majority in the 70-member legislature is required for the measure to pass.

If it is vetoed, the status quo will be maintained. The bureaucracy's propaganda machine is now focused on luring the public to take whatever is doled out.

At this critical juncture, both mainland and Hong Kong officials are pulling out all the stops. Yet their line-up of talking heads to argue the case has been, to put it politely, dismal.

Their public faces have included the usual ultra-conservatives hand-picked as NPC delegates and members of the Executive Council. They include Elsie Leung Oi-sie, Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, Maria Tam Wai-chu, Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun and Arthur Li Kwok-cheung.

They have come across as little more than Beijing mouthpieces. Instead of lowering the political temperature, their sound bites have often ended up inciting more discontent. Leung, a former secretary for justice, said Hong Kong had to become a municipality directly under the central government if residents were to ask for more liberal election rules.

Li ridiculed the planned student boycott of classes by asking three times in the same breath, "Who cares?" He dared the students to give up their university places instead. Students and alumni of Chinese University are ashamed to say that Li was once its vice chancellor.

Tertiary students have been at the forefront of the civil disobedience movement in the wake of the NPC's decision. Their action is echoed by some progressive students in secondary schools. These young activists, in particular, have become a target of the campaign to stem pro-democracy protest efforts.

The Alliance for Peace and Democracy has gone as far as advertising a hotline to name and shame those secondary schools that allow their students to boycott classes. Its spokesman, Robert Chow Yung, even had the nerve to say the hotline would help our children.

The move is a reminder of tactics employed during the Cultural Revolution, when people were urged to betray even those closest to them in the interests of the party.

The alliance's name-and-shame tactics have led to a public outcry, as they are a flagrant breach of the fundamental values in education.

These pro-Beijing figures in Hong Kong are typically aged over 60 and thus witnessed the catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution. They often seek to compare the student activists to Mao Zedong's red guards.

Yet, as the hotline stunt has shown, it is these people who are resorting to red-guard tactics to resist change.

Another figure who has stepped into the limelight is Wong Kwan-yu, from the Federation of Education Workers. Wong became known two years ago for his role in the government's aborted attempt to introduce national education as an independent subject into the school curriculum. He was a director of the National Education Services Centre, which had been funded by the Education Bureau to produce material suitable for national education.

Wong told Scholarism convenor Joshua Wong Chi-fung that he and his fellow activists were not much different from triad gangsters. He is oblivious to the fact that the students are just calling for a peaceful demonstration in the form of a class boycott. In contrast, it was the leftist pro-Beijing students in Hong Kong who took an active role in the violent riots of 1967.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his governance team have consistently performed poorly in popularity surveys. If other public faces of the anti-Occupy Central movement were included in the polls, their popularity scores would probably be even worse.

The fact that opportunists such as Robert Chow and Wong Kwan-yu lead the anti-democratic movement says a lot about the calibre of the rest of their camp.

As the proverb goes, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. The French have a similar saying, which is equally applicable to us: "When a blind man bears the standard, pity those who follow." We need to keep our eyes wide open to see where these blind standard-bearers are heading.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]