Blame adversarial politics, not Leung Chun-ying, for Hong Kong’s polarised society
Ho Lok Sang says Hong Kong must heed public interest to heal itself, as universal suffrage has been disproved as a panacea. However, the signs are not encouraging
With the Hong Kong chief executive election drawing near, pan-democrats had been calling for “ABC”: “Anyone but CY”. Now that Leung Chun-ying has declared he won’t be seeking a second term, pan-democrats are claiming victory in this leg of the struggle. But many warn that another CY could be elected.
From day one, Leung was the straw man, to be jeered, labelled a wolf and ridiculed, and blamed for almost every ill. He is held responsible for the polarisation of Hong Kong, but polarisation is not unique to this city. Donald Trump, just named Person of the Year by Time , was described on the cover as: “President of the Divided States of America.” On October 3, broadcaster DW ran the headline, “Opinion: Polarised Germany”to mark the Day of German Unity. Even Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who came to power with the support of pro-independence groups, has seen her popularity plummet after soured relations with the mainland hit the island’s economy.
If Hong Kong heeds the lesson from the Leung administration’s past five years, and starts working on its best interests, the city will have a better tomorrow. Unfortunately, the signs are not good.
A Facebook group formed to target Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who has indicated she will run for chief executive, calls her just another “689” (the number of votes Leung gained in becoming chief executive) I watched a video that tries to mobilise support against Ip. The reason? She has the support of Beijing. And after Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor indicated she might join the race, a caricature of her as Leung started circulating on the internet.
All this attests to the damaging effects of adversarial democracy, which discourages people from considering the long-term, wider interests of society, with “public interest” put on the back burner.
Blaming the polarisation on Leung is just a convenient political ploy by those who detest Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. Since Hong Kong began its process of democratisation, different interests have been vying for influence to advance their agendas. But this will not help build a better future. To do that, we must consider how a policy or institutional arrangement may affect each of us in the community. I define public interest as the interest of a “representative individual” – who could be anyone in the community and so has no fixed identity or given interest. The public interest should also include the interest of future generations.
Believing in adversarial politics requires a leap of faith. Those who demand “genuine universal suffrage” believe it is the best way to bring about socially desirable outcomes. But the past five years are proof that adversarial politics only ends up polarising the community, each side seeing the other as enemies.
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American political scientist Jane Mansbridge, in her book 1980 book Beyond Adversary Democracy, argued that “adversary democrats” did not believe in the existence of a public or common interest. Rule by consensus – or by people reasoning together – is thus deemed impossible. Under this argument, there will always be a battle of interests, so the best shot at real democracy is to give each group an equal chance of winning. But, in Taiwan, Europe and the US we have witnessed increasing polarisation. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp blames Leung for the increasing polarisation in the city, as well as the lack of “genuine universal suffrage”. But events around the world show that this narrative is no longer credible.
Ho Lok Sang is dean of business at Chu Hai College of Higher Education