Carrie Lam’s Bible lesson of reconciliation is lost on Hong Kong’s warring politicians

Yonden Lhatoo is intrigued by how Hong Kong’s leader took a page from the Bible to attempt her ‘Great Reconciliation’ with opposition politicians, only to be rebuffed by all sides

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 March, 2018, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 March, 2018, 10:50pm

Did anyone notice that Hong Kong’s chief executive was doing it by the book – specifically, the Bible – in attempting to bridge the yawning chasm between her administration and opposition politicians?

It was practically a re-enactment of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. As the story goes, the younger of two brothers demands his half of their inheritance from their father and, upon receiving his share, ends up blowing it all and sleeping in a pig sty. Destitute and desperate, he returns home to his father, begging for forgiveness and offering to work as his servant.

The father, instead of reprimanding him or rubbing it in, welcomes him back with open arms and holds a feast in his honour. The elder brother is outraged that the prodigal is rewarded, while he gets nothing for all his loyalty and obedience.

“Look, all these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends,” he tells his father. “But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

The father’s reply is a moral and spiritual lesson: “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Now picture Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor as the father, the Democratic Party as the wayward brother and the pro-establishment camp as the elder son.

Lam recently caused quite a stir by not only attending the Democrats’ 23rd anniversary dinner, but also donating HK$30,000 out of her own pocket to their cause. She then proceeded to trumpet it as the “Great Reconciliation”.

Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam defends donation to pro-democracy party but apologises for ‘inconvenience’ caused

Unfortunately, it backfired, with her political allies feeling left out, green-eyed and rather bitter. Veteran pro-government lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee complained it gave the impression that the chief executive was “buying goodwill”.

The Democrats were also made to feel guilty for accepting Lam’s money by their soul mates in the opposition camp who suggested they were selling out instead of behaving like the opposition.

And here’s where the story takes a completely different turn from the original parable. Lam ended up apologising this week for the whole controversy.

“I can only say sorry for causing inconvenience for the Democrats, and the pro-establishment political parties’ discomfort,” she said. “If society believes the chief executive should be more cautious, instead of making too many personal gestures, I will be more restrained.”

Picture Carrie Lam as the father, the Democratic Party as the wayward brother and the pro-establishment camp as the elder son

It’s understandable that the biblical exemplar was lost on both sides of the political divide – not everyone is a devout Catholic like Lam, who has made no bones about drawing strength and inspiration from her faith to perform what is arguably the toughest job in a polarised city.

But while they may reject the Judeo-Christian concept of forgiveness and welcoming the “sinner” back into the fold, there is a reverse lesson here for pro-establishment politicians in particular.

They may want to tone down some of their traditional shoe shining and sycophancy, and deliver on the real job they were elected for – to serve as checks and balances in the legislature, rather than as rubber stamps, although not opposition for opposition’s sake like the pan-democrats.

It’s human nature for a person in power to take the groupies for granted, beyond a certain point, and spend more time and energy on winning over those who can be problematic. It’s also human nature to respect resistance over blind allegiance.

No doubt our chief executive is the spiritual type, but she’s very much human, too.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post