National People's Congress

Can Hong Kong’s new NPC deputies be the change that the city’s zero-sum politics needs?

Sonny Lo says an assertive civil society in Hong Kong is hamstrung by the lack of mediators between opposing camps, and hopes the new NPC deputies will help to alter the zero-sum nature of Hong Kong politics, which reinforces its negative image

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 1:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 7:17pm

The street protests by half a million people on July 1, 2003, saw the emergence in Hong Kong of an assertive civil society, that however lacks political power brokers. Although a few did emerge in 2010, when Democratic Party members went to the central government’s liaison office to negotiate the city’s electoral reforms, Hong Kong on the whole lacks political power brokers.

Intermediary agents are critical in any process of democratisation. In 1986, when Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party was formed, then president Chiang Ching-kuo did not order the police or military to suppress it; marking a watershed in Taiwan’s democratisation. Importantly, some academics served as mediators between the DPP and the ruling regime, thus averting any crackdown on the nascent party.

The case of Hong Kong is very different. Politics here is often seen as a zero-sum game; when one side wins, the other loses. Take the recent passage of new Legislative Council house rules. Pro-government elites hailed the rules as a necessity for a more productive legislative-executive relationship, but the opposition denounced it as authoritarian.

We lack political power brokers who can, first, mediate between the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps; second, help minimise the difference of opinion between mainland officials responsible for Hong Kong affairs and pan-democratic elites; and third, act as a bridge for fragmented pan-democrats.

The zero-sum nature of Hong Kong politics only reinforces the negative public perception of it. For most people in Hong Kong, politics is dirty, politicians are not to be trusted, and legislative politics is counterproductive. This delegitimises the political process.

Hence, political intermediaries are urgently required, and they will need to eschew a zero-sum view. One may expect local members of the National People’s Congress to play the role of middlemen between Beijing and the pan-democrats. But, sadly, none of the past members succeeded in playing that role, or even wanted to. Perhaps a few of the newly elected members will have the determination, if not the skills, of being political brokers.

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No matter whether the brokers are from the mainland or Hong Kong, they must practise the art of political moderation, compromise, balance and negotiation.

It is sad to witness Hong Kong’s political arena become flooded with accusations and confrontations, without the appreciation that politics has another positive aspect – in which the holders of power refrain from exercising it, and where the real spirit of democracy lies in political moderation and compromise.

Sonny Lo is a professor of politics at HKU SPACE