Without compromise, Hong Kong will be mired in endless political struggle

Sonny Lo says Hong Kong, gripped by political distrust, should use the upcoming district elections to find its way towards compromise

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 5:38pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 5:48pm

As a political scientist studying and commenting on Hong Kong politics since the early 1990s, I am saddened by the hyper-politicisation of Hong Kong and the absence of moderation in its politics. While some people see this as a sign of political development, it is arguably the root of the city's incessant disputes.

In general, people have become intolerant of opposing views. Verbal abuse and attacks have become commonplace in recent years, sometimes culminating into physical violence between participants and the police in social and political movements, particularly during the Occupy Central movement last autumn.

Indeed, profound distrust has been exacerbating between the democrats and the post-1997 leadership since Hong Kong's return to its motherland. Such distrust has been worsened by governmental scandals, policy mistakes and insufficient consultation.

Hong Kong is likely to become a mediocre city, surpassed economically by neighbouring cities

All the intermediaries have failed to work as cohesive forces fostering political trust. Even worse, many political parties, interest groups and intellectuals take sides and push society into a more extremist situation in which polarisation and ideological struggles are the norms.

The current political situation does not bode well for Hong Kong's future. Hong Kong is likely to become a mediocre city, surpassed economically by neighbouring cities such as Macau, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Guangzhou, where citizens develop more trusting relations with one another and the government. With an increasingly ageing population and the inevitable reliance on mainland immigrants, who are still seen by a minority of "localists" as a societal threat, Hong Kong is losing its economic competitive edge.

It is time for all sides of the political spectrum to ponder the proper way out of this impasse. First and foremost, they should stop pointing fingers and have a cooling-off period. Second, the traditional intermediaries - such as political parties, interest groups and intellectuals - should map out strategies of social cohesion.

The forthcoming district council elections should be treated as a golden opportunity for all sides to discuss not only issues affecting citizens' livelihood but also ways to depoliticise society. If we don't, local elections would continue to be marred by bitter political struggles.

In short, the Hong Kong political system is malfunctioning mainly because its political actors have been failing absolutely to work towards compromises.

If this situation persists, trust will vanish among the political actors, who have been using confrontational populism to achieve their own ends.

Sonny Lo is professor and head of the department of social sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education