Fearmongering over 'red invasion' a poor election campaign strategy

Lau Nai-keung says demonisation won't wash with Hong Kong voters

We have long described our city as having 1,100 square kilometres of land, of which some 20per cent has been developed and about 40per cent zoned as country park and can never be developed. Given that, we are supposedly left with 40per cent of land - or about 400 square kilometres - for development. Where has all that gone?

A large chunk of it is in the hands of private developers as land reserves which, according to official sources, are larger than that still owned by the government. Anyway, this part cannot be developed, at least not for the moment as most of it is still defined as farmland, although nobody has planted anything on it for years.

The developers are happy about this status quo as they reap the benefits from this artificial shortage by being able to jack up their selling prices. It is the ordinary folk who are getting unhappier by the day; they live in inhumanly overcrowded conditions and pay exorbitant rents, knowing they are unlikely to be able to buy a flat in their lifetime.

The previous government sided with developers and was lambasted for colluding with big business. The pro-democracy camp was very noisy about this, but after the election of Leung Chun-ying as chief executive, it suddenly fell silent.

Even before the new administration had settled down, critics targeted the central government and Leung himself. They told him to lay off developing the northern New Territories any further, and in particular avoid recouping land from private hands for development, that is, from the big property companies which have accumulated huge land reserves there.

Some even spread rumours that the Leung administration wanted to allow people from Shenzhen to travel to new towns being planned in the New Territories in a visa-on-arrival scheme, raising fears that the border between the mainland and Hong Kong would disappear. There was also talk that the "Property Party" has set itself up against the Communist Party, and that it wants to topple the Leung administration in 18 months. Like most rumours, this one cannot be confirmed.

Nevertheless, the battle lines are drawn and the outcome will be decided on September 9 when citizens go to the polls to pick members of the next Legislative Council. Judging from the campaign strategies of the dissident candidates, their common weapon is fearmongering, warning of the communist mainland infringing Hong Kong's way of life, leading to a loss of freedom, the rule of law and democracy. If they are to be believed, we will lose everything if we do not vote for dissident politicians to act as a check on such horrifying developments, led by Leung the undercover communist. Compared with this overriding threat, exploitation by some property tycoons is peanuts.

Throughout history, fear has probably been the most powerful political tool, but chances are it will not work this time. For fear to inflict its full power, it must be accompanied by ignorance. Fear of communism used to work well in the US because few really knew what it is.

But this strategy seems to be working among some of our youths because they have never had close encounters with real communists. That is why those who intend to perpetuate this artificial horror do not want our youths to have a deeper understanding of what is actually happening now on the mainland, and insist that they be spoon-fed only by our heavily biased media.

Hong Kong is an open society with free access to information from all sources, and this, coupled with the very frequent exchanges between people from both sides of the Shenzhen River, means that demonisation of the other side will not work. This basic truth will be borne out by the Legco election results.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Rousing fears of a 'red invasion' a losing strategy