A protester holds a placard depicting Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a demonstration in Hong Kong on June 16. Photo: Reuters
A protester holds a placard depicting Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a demonstration in Hong Kong on June 16. Photo: Reuters
Michael Chugani
Opinion

Opinion

Michael Chugani

Replacing Carrie Lam with another puppet would be pointless. Instead, Beijing needs to loosen the strings

  • The Hong Kong crisis is likely to end in tragedy unless Carrie Lam can muster the courage to tell her bosses in Beijing to stop eroding the city’s autonomy, allow genuine democratic elections, and end the insidious mainlandisation

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A protester holds a placard depicting Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a demonstration in Hong Kong on June 16. Photo: Reuters
A protester holds a placard depicting Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a demonstration in Hong Kong on June 16. Photo: Reuters

When a puppet show loses appeal, the smart thing is to reinvent the storyline. The dumbest thing is to keep the old plot with a few character changes. Audiences will not be duped.

Hong Kong is like a puppet show morphing into a Greek tragedy. The puppet strings stretch all the way to Beijing where furious puppet masters insist only a small minority of people brainwashed by the West are booing what is otherwise an excellent show.

Still, there is
talk
Beijing will soon replace Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who triggered Hong Kong's worst political crisis. If that does happen, despite
denials
, it would be nothing more than a cosmetic reboot of the old puppet show which Hongkongers have already rejected with
mass protest marches
and
petrol bombs
.
It is a cruel fact that most Hongkongers consider Lam a
puppet
doing Beijing's bidding instead of accurately reflecting the people’s views to her bosses. Since the crisis erupted over her
now-dead extradition bill
, everything she has done proves rather than disproves that fact. She has not demonstrated in any way that she is on the side of the people or dares to stand up to her bosses.
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Instead, she and her Beijing bosses have synced their script to claim
external forces
are stoking the violence, only a
small group
supports it, and to repeatedly
demand
an end to the violence. Demanding an end to violence without giving anything in return puts Hong Kong in a chicken-and-egg situation.
Which should come first – an end to violence or a political path to end it? Lam triggered the violence. Since it started five months ago,
almost 3,000
protesters have been arrested, most of them students and young people. They have risked jail and sacrificed futures in the belief that only violent protests can protect their freedoms.
What has Lam done to change that belief? Nothing. Instead, she has called them
rioters
who must face the full force of the law. Her masters have called the protesters
thugs
in cahoots with the West to blunt China's rise. Beijing has used this unproven claim of foreign interference to further tighten the puppet strings.
Most Hongkongers know the decision to
ban
democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung from upcoming
district council elections
was not made by a lowly government official. It was made at the top after Beijing pulled the puppet strings to send a message that Wong and other activists like him can never be election candidates.

How can violence end when, instead of providing a political path to end it, Lam and her bosses prove through the banning of Wong from elections that the fear of lost freedoms that feed the violence is very real?

We are at a stage where replacing Lam is pointless. Anyone Beijing trusts to succeed Lam will be seen by Hongkongers as just another puppet. Remember when the opposition came up with the slogan “
anyone but CY Leung
”? They got Lam, who is now seen as even more of a
puppet
. That is why the opposition is no longer demanding Lam be replaced.
What needs replacing is not the chief executive but the political system. Anything short of that will not defuse the time bomb Hong Kong has become. Lam and her bosses are deluding themselves by believing the street anger will eventually
fizzle out
and things will return to normal.
I have said before that the old normal is gone. Lam needs to show she is on the side of Hongkongers by daring to tell her bosses we need a new normal. That new normal requires a loosening of the puppet strings, genuine democratic elections, and ending the insidious
mainlandisation
of Hong Kong.

I do not know if Lam, who is a Catholic, still goes to church, and if she does, what she prays for. I hope she prays for the many hundreds of arrested young protesters. And I hope she prays for the strength to tell her bosses that, unless they stop eroding Hong Kong's autonomy, the puppet show will definitely end in a Greek tragedy.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host

Chief Executive Carrie Lam chose a sky-blue colour for her policy address in the hopes that blue skies will be returning to Hong Kong soon. Photo: Winson Wong
Chief Executive Carrie Lam chose a sky-blue colour for her policy address in the hopes that blue skies will be returning to Hong Kong soon. Photo: Winson Wong
Michael Chugani
Opinion

Opinion

Michael Chugani

Carrie Lam could have addressed the five demands in a speech for the ages. Instead, she gave us a damp squib

  • No one needs to hear Carrie Lam boast of her successes when the violence on the streets shows her agenda hasn’t worked
  • That violence finally pushed her to tackle livelihood issues, but silence on the five demands won’t calm Hong Kong

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Chief Executive Carrie Lam chose a sky-blue colour for her policy address in the hopes that blue skies will be returning to Hong Kong soon. Photo: Winson Wong
Chief Executive Carrie Lam chose a sky-blue colour for her policy address in the hopes that blue skies will be returning to Hong Kong soon. Photo: Winson Wong
It must be a struggle to find a word for a leader who claims a
97 per cent
success rate in her first two years in office when the city is reeling from its worst political crisis ever. Delusional? A better word is leitei. The literal translation is “off the ground” but in Cantonese the word means out of touch with reality.
Just how out of touch Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is can best be measured in tear gas, rubber bullets, protests – peaceful and violent – and hundreds of young people who face years in jail for joining an uprising now in its
fourth month
.
Yet two days after radical protesters
trashed the city
, she boasted she had succeeded in achieving nearly all of the 500 policy initiatives she tasked herself with in the past two years.

I am unfamiliar with much of her initiatives but if her perfect record had improved lives, Hong Kong should be the world’s most contented city. Maybe Lam should rename Hong Kong “Shangri-La” as her next initiative.

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But the reality is Hongkongers are not living in nirvana. They are living in a hellhole she created. Even teenagers are throwing
petrol bombs
, clashing with the police and singing
songs of freedom
. Lam’s approval rating has
plunged
to levels unseen before.
Yesterday, she tried again to make Hong Kong a happy place by using her
annual policy speech
to announce another 220 initiatives. Opposition legislators
heckled her
, forcing Lam to deliver the speech via video.
Does she still not get it? Most people no longer want speeches boasting about achievements. What they want can be counted on five fingers. It’s called “
five demands
, not one less”. This is what people, young and old, are chanting across town.

No policy speech in recent memory had such potential to shape history, coinciding with Hong Kong’s gravest political crisis ever. Lam could have recast herself by promising to try to make Beijing understand the deepest of Hong Kong’s many deep-rooted problems is not housing but a fear of eroding autonomy.

This fear has long-festered in the psyche of Hongkongers as they watched their freedoms being
chipped away
through Beijing-ordered policies, ranging from the
disqualification
of election candidates to a
national anthem law
that forces patriotism.
How can Hongkongers not fear eroding autonomy when Beijing used a sledgehammer against the National Basketball Association after one of its executives
tweeted his support
for Hong Kong freedom? How can people not fear what will come next after Beijing forced
Cathay Pacific
to fire staff for peacefully supporting protests?

Lam could have used her speech to reach out by telling Hongkongers she understands their concerns and will relay them to her bosses. Instead, she squandered a speech that could have reshaped events.

This does not mean her speech was entirely out of focus. People do care about livelihood issues such as finding land for the city’s housing crisis and extra funding for health care, education, the elderly and the needy. Hong Kong’s unfair society where a handful of tycoons dominate our lives has long been a major grievance.

These grievances should have been tackled but our leaders lacked the grit, allowing them to breed. It took teenagers hurling petrol bombs to
force Lam
into taking at least some action.

But even though she prioritised housing, her overall speech was a damp squib. Not a single word about the five demands or meaningful policies to make our society fairer. Will it quell some of the violence? I don’t know.

But the five demands, particularly an independent inquiry and political reforms, are the priority now, not livelihood issues. Being forced to deliver her speech by video, the first time ever for a leader, is a shape of things to come.

Lam chose blue for the cover of her speech, hoping its contents will bring back blue skies. She ended by predicting a rainbow will replace the political storm. Talk about wishful thinking.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host