Election over, Hong Kong must try again to agree on political reform to heal the rifts in society

Ronny Tong is disappointed by the lack of effort on the part of all three chief executive candidates to bridge the gulf in society, and believes the winner cannot wish away the main source of the disagreement – democratisation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 7:45pm

Just the other day, a friend of mine asked me: “What do we get from this chief executive election?” It was a simple enough question, but it stunned me for a while. Yes, come to think of it, apart from getting a new leader, what do we get from this election? Or more to the point, what can we expect from our new chief executive that may be different from what we got from the last three?

If you look back over the course of the election campaign, you cannot but come to the dreaded conclusion that the divide we have been lamenting since the Occupy Central protest movement is now even deeper than ever. And there is no sign of relief in sight. It is true that all four hopefuls (if you include Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee), throughout their respective campaigns, said they would do their best to mend the rift within our community; but do we see anything concrete done or proposed by them? Sadly, no.

Watch: Woo Kwok-hing says he is determined to prevent Carrie Lam from winning

Do you remember what former judge Woo Kwok-hing said on the day he handed in his 180 nominations? He said, “I’m 200 per cent committed to preventing Carrie Lam from being elected!” If he was not appearing on television at the time, you might have thought that was “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung talking. Since when is the goal of a candidate to “prevent” one of your opponents from being elected, rather than trying to win the election yourself? That is the mentality of opposition right there, rather than a desire and commitment to work for the betterment of Hong Kong; and it is precisely such a mentality on both sides that is tearing Hong Kong apart.

If a candidate would pander in this way to a particular group, what would he be like as a leader?

Perhaps Woo, as a candidate, was only trying to win over the pan-democrats, but if a candidate would pander in this way to a particular group, what would he be like as a leader? More importantly, if you are willing to be led by the opposition to fight against, rather than lead the opposition to win over, the other side, what chances do we have to overcome the gulf of differences between the two sides?

John Tsang Chun-wah is no better. If he thinks that getting some nominations and support from the pan-democrats and a few nominations from the pro-government camp means our rift in the community can thereby be bridged, he is sadly mistaken. The irony is that his most staunch supporters do not care about bridging the rift within the community. The political parties that support him want him to “fight against” the central government’s liaison office and, presumably, Beijing.

And if you go to Lam’s social media page, you will find his supporters using the foulest language to vilify her daily. Did Tsang call for calm and restraint on the part of his supporters? Did he make any concrete proposals to convince everyone to adopt a more conciliatory and forgiving attitude in order to build a more harmonious Hong Kong? Sorry, no.

In a way, Tsang was spot on when he said earlier that, if Lam were elected, Hong Kong would be further torn apart. The only thing is, it will not be due to the efforts of Lam alone.

Watch: John Tsang says Carrie Lam’s election would tear society apart

Is Lam the better choice then? Unfortunately, no. She conspicuously distanced herself from the opposition camp throughout her entire campaign. Even when she did go to meet the opposition, she looked very reluctant and uncomfortable.

She said she would build an inclusive government and invite young people of different political backgrounds to join her administration; but would they? Does she really think young people can be bought over so easily? To start with, the disdainful way she treats social media projects a strong message that she does not believe in communicating with young people in the only way they know how, or winning them over on their own turf. Will Lam ever outgrow her civil-servant mentality and become a real politician and political leader? Can she prove all her critics – in particular, those calling for her resignation even before she won the election – wrong?

No mutual trust between Carrie Lam and us, 24 Hong Kong pan-democrats claim in statement

I am sorry, but this election does not bode well for our future. This election has driven us further apart since Occupy Central, and the three candidates did not help. Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming our candidates; although I do wish they made things easier. After all, it is wishful thinking that our political differences could be overcome by a single person, chief executive or not. We must learn to respect and forgive; to listen and think; to reach out and find common goals rather than to highlight our disagreements.

In this respect, what can our new chief executive do? First and foremost, she must learn to reach out to our young people. Simply providing housing and career prospects to some of them will not be the complete answer. We must understand that young people live on dreams and ideals; on material as well as spiritual support. If it means learning to communicate with them over social media, so be it. There’s no avoiding social media. Just look at Donald Trump and his tweets.

Winning over opposition legislators, or at least building up a relatively normal relationship with them, is another important challenge that Lam must face head-on. There is no short cut or easy way out. If she wants respect and support from the opposition, she must first extend respect and support to them. This means more than just inviting some of them to join her administration; it means believing in the one thing which they thrive on: political development.

Lam’s job now is not simply to get things done but to instil hope and confidence in people

It matters not that some people think such an effort is bound to fail because of the great divide within our community. We are in a vicious circle. If we give up on political reform, Hong Kong will continue to be divided. The only way to get us out of this downward spiral is to keep trying. We must believe that it is the process of trying that unites people with hope.

Last but not least, Lam must give up her civil-servant mentality. She is now a politician and the leader of a territory. Unlike being a chief secretary, her job now is not simply to get things done but to instil hope and confidence in people. She must accept that a very strong reason Tsang did so much better than her as a candidate was because he realised this much sooner and better than she did.

Has Beijing changed its mind about giving Hong Kong people the vote?

In a way, this is where her predecessor Leung Chun-ying has failed. Lam cannot afford to live up to her critics’ prophecy that she will be “C Y 2.0”. A leader will not just do, but will also listen; not just get pinned down by petty disputes, but move on with vision. Most important of all, a leader reaches out to others, instead of just waiting to be reached.

What do we get out of this election? I hope we get a second chance. We have wasted so much time. Twenty years, to be precise. Perhaps we don’t deserve one, but a second chance is what we can make of this election. We owe it to this place we call our home.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, SC, a former legislator, is convenor of the think tank Path of Democracy