An angry Hong Kong is giving rise to rabble-rousers, and it is time the government paid heed
Feng Chi-shun says Hong Kong politics has become meaner and nastier amid increasing public ire at the status quo, and the administration must recognise the causes or risk more chaos
Populism and demagogues have become fashionable words. After all, populism has reshaped politics, from the Philippines to the US; demagogues like Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump have won a lot of votes.
Populism and demagoguery are also alive and well in Hong Kong. People who are clueless in the ways of the world won seats in our latest Legislative Council election. They gained popularity not by proposing any brilliant ideas to solve society’s ills, but by arousing negative emotions, passions and prejudices against mainlanders and the central government.
I grew up in the colonial days in Hong Kong, when someone with little or no achievement in life would have no chance of becoming a legislator. Legco then was filled by pillars of society, the grey-haired, rich and famous, powerful and influential. I imagine the speeches there were eloquent and sophisticated, and people were civil and respectful.
Things changed after the handover in 1997. After the first banana was thrown, and, recently, neophyte legislators mischievously mispronounced China as “Cheena” during the swearing-in, all decorum vanished. Many legislators seem to have nothing to offer, but disrupt Legco sessions with childish and outrageous behaviour and filibustering tactics.
Impressionable young people watching these legislators must think, “I can do that kind of work, and the pay is not bad, either.” Anyone with the time, energy and ambition to become a politico can win an election in Hong Kong by reaching out to a sizable constituency of disillusioned fellow citizens, and play to their pet peeves – such as an unpopular leader, “mainlandisation”, or communism. Equipped with silly antics, inflammatory remarks, and catchy sound bites, these rabble-rousers incite public fury, while attaining their 15 minutes of fame.
It is also a sign of the times. Hong Kong is a quasi-democratic society, and democracies have always had their ugly side effects.
Freedom of speech has rendered politics in Hong Kong nastier and meaner in recent years. The use of foul and vulgar language directed at authority and authoritative figures has become the norm. The public like it, as it is a vicarious way for the underprivileged to vent their anger at the government.
Instead of blaming the demagogues, our government must recognise the legitimacy of public grievances and deal with them accordingly. Otherwise, anger will replace understanding; emotion will trump rationality. And politicos who contribute nothing to the betterment of society but bring chaos and acrimony to Legco meetings will continue to win elections.
Dr Feng Chi-shun is an author and a retired pathologist