Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Cool heads needed to sell Hong Kong electoral reform package

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 May, 2015, 12:34am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 May, 2015, 7:01pm

A good salesman requires a calm demeanour, charm and persuasion. If composure is lost, there's every chance that no deal will be struck. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man forgot that while promoting the government's political reforms, losing his temper and arguing with an elderly man. With an issue that has so divided Hong Kong society, emotions are bound to run high.

Ko would seem the least likely of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's ministers to lose his cool. He is among Hong Kong's most popular politicians and has a reputation for having a placid nature. But his uncharacteristic outburst while selling the reforms at a housing estate in Ngau Tau Kok last weekend was in large part understandable. Objectors and protesters have taken to verbally attacking, insulting and goading supporters of the package, leading to provocative situations.

It is human nature to respond when provoked. After the man had made his point, he turned away; Ko reflexively responded by following and continuing the argument. Every word and action was caught by the watching media, amplifying the encounter. The minister should have instead acted calmly, with the utmost restraint.

Opinion surveys show backing for the package is hovering below 50 per cent. The government's campaign to lift support and convince pan-democratic legislators to vote for it makes sense. But its initial strategy of taking the campaign to the streets with a well-advertised bus tour of districts was wrought with such chaos by radical protesters that it has since been modified to unannounced visits by ministers. It is important that they reach out to the public with a single voice.

In doing so, they will encounter people with differing, sometimes hostile, views. It is their job to persevere and try to convince. In doing so, though, they have to remember that as public figures, they have to set an example for others to follow. At so challenging a time in our city's political development, there is every reason they take care with what they say and do.