My Take

When public opinion is a matter of opinion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 June, 2015, 3:20am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 June, 2015, 3:20am

If there was a common theme between the government and the pan-democratic opposition in the Legislative Council yesterday, it is that both sides accused the other of disregarding public opinion. They are both right about each other - and wrong about themselves.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor opened her speech by calling on the pan-democrats to respect public opinion, which clearly meant their expected rejection of the government's reform package was a rejection of public opinion.

"Public opinion is clear. The majority of Hong Kong people would like to see their right to vote being put in place in 2017 so that there will be development of political reform, instead of a stalemate," she said.

"In my experience, in my visit to districts, I can feel in general the public has a strong desire to have one person, one vote … This is a very strong public opinion."

The pan-democrats likewise cited public opinion as their guide and accused the government of manipulating it.

So pan-dem Leung Yiu-chung reciprocated by accusing the government of subverting public opinion.

"It is the Hong Kong government that disrespects public opinion," he said.

"The government, which claims it respects public opinion, is pretending. What they say is different from what they do."

If Hong Kong has become highly politicised, there is no other issue that is more polarising than democratic reforms.

Week after week since late April, the government and various civic groups and political parties have conducted surveys on the state of public opinion, and what they all showed, despite minor variations, is that we are basically split down the middle. Latest numbers are 44 per cent for the package and 40 per cent against.

Given the substantial numbers on both sides, it's easy but also disingenuous for the government and the opposition to claim they have public opinion on their side.

The tragic irony of Hong Kong today is that we have all the attributes of division, quarrel and polarisation characteristic of many democracies without their viable electoral systems. And it's possible it will be stuck in this electoral no man's land for a generation.