Does Hong Kong need a strongman leader like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte or the US’ Donald Trump?

Peter Kammerer says it’s no surprise people who are tired of empty promises are getting fed up and agitating for change – the same here as elsewhere

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 May, 2016, 1:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 3:08pm

Everyone wants a leader who can get things done. If that means upturning the political system, so be it: enough with the filibustering, the bipartisan stand-offs, the pointless squabbling holding up development and progress. It’s why Donald Trump is getting so much support in the US, many voters backed Rodrigo Duterte for the presidency in the Philippines and politicians like India’s Narendra Modi and Japan’s Shinzo Abe won power. When no such person is apparent for public office, there is bound to be negativity and disharmony.

Hong Kong plainly needs such a person. Our political system, keenly watched over by Beijing and generous to vested interests, doesn’t allow for such ideals. Little wonder that there is much scepticism about what authorities say and do and some young people are testing the limits. When policymaking is viewed as one-sided, movement on matters believed to be important is glacial and the fundamentals of a decent living are being eroded or don’t seem to change, the result is discontent.

Donald Trump’s brand of populism exists in many societies

I can’t help but admire Trump. He has huge character flaws, his ego among them, but is oblivious to them. He also doesn’t understand the American political system, but that’s OK: he is giving hope to voters who have had enough of the promises and lies of the establishment. If he lifts spirits flattened by decades of self-interest and the greed of big business, that’s a good start to changing outdated ways.

Abe, Modi and Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, were elected amid such expectations. They haven’t been able to deliver, proving how difficult finding common political ground is. Trump is going to quickly discover that, should he become the 45th US president, a long shot if his too-often loose lips trip him over the line of common acceptability. It is what should have long ago happened to Duterte, whom I have no such warmth for; he is a thug in a country that has a short memory of its past and a machismo among men out of kilter with the importance of women to Philippine society.

Duterte said he would kill his children if they were found to be taking drugs. He said an Australian missionary gang-raped and murdered in a Philippine jail was so beautiful that he would have liked “to be first”. If lawmakers did not agree with his policies should he be elected, then abolishing congress was in order. Suspected criminals who resisted arrest should be killed by law enforcers, who would be issued with presigned pardons.

Duterte’s shocking, shrewd shot at the Philippine presidency

Philippine President Benigno Aquino urges candidates to join forces against Rodrigo Duterte

These are not the words of a strongman: they are the ramblings of a wannabe dictator. Filipinos who voted for him should be ashamed. They have forgotten about their not-so-distant history when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and overturned democracy, murdering and torturing opponents and critics and plundering the economy into bankruptcy. If only their historians and school textbooks taught beyond 1971 to those years of fear and ruin so that the dangers of such people could be more easily sensed.

By comparison, Trump is an angel

By comparison, Trump is an angel. He may be vulgar, but he at least knows the value of the rule of law, democracy, free speech and striking deals. As a political outsider, he is a breath of fresh air amid the staleness of a tired and worn-out political system that needs overhauling. Like him or loathe him, the excitement he has generated has put the need for strong, meaningful, leadership back on the agenda.

Centuries of human development have defined the role of government. Nobody should go hungry or be homeless, people should be protected against those who threaten them, and parts of society unable to properly fend for themselves – the young, elderly, physically and mentally disabled, minority groups and the sick – must be given equal rights and safety nets. Beyond these basics, there also have to be means for improvement and advancement through stages of education that lead to fulfilment of potential and a reasonable standard of living. Deny any of these and agitation is sure to arise.

Trump and Duterte tapped into that. Hong Kong’s leaders still don’t get it. Unless they do, the cloud of discontent hovering over society is only going to thicken.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post