27 February 2020
Stephen Lam believes in miracles and says nothing is impossible about political reform in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ
Stephen Lam believes in miracles and says nothing is impossible about political reform in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Stephen Lam on universal suffrage: Miracles do happen

Legco President Jasper Tsang said it in a song and Financial Secretary John Tsang borrowed a line from a movie.

But it was former chief secretary Stephen Lam who said it best, albeit with a touch of irony.

Lam, who was as pragmatic a political operative as it gets during his time as head of Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, quietly slipped back to Hong Kong recently after studying theology at the University of Oxford in England.

Two weeks ago, he preached his positive message to politicians and the public as deadline loomed over Beijing’s decision on a 2017 political reform package for Hong Kong and a mass civil disobedience campaign by Occupy Central looked simply a matter of time.

In 2010, Lam was embroiled in a political standoff over constitutional reform between an unyielding Beijing and an equally determined group of democrats who would not support anything less than “one man, two votes”.

Lam and former chief justice Wong Yan-lung presented the idea to then Chief Executive Donald Tsang, hoping he could convince Beijing to accept it.

But Tsang, a relic of the colonial administration, was the wrong man for the job. Beijing couldn’t trust him enough to do business with him.

Lam and Wong called in a group of Christian ministers and they all prayed that Beijing would have a change of heart.

The central government accepted the Democratic Party’s consultation package at the 11th hour.

And for the first time, the Democratic Party and Beijing began to see eye to eye on certain contentious issues including the bloody June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

It marked the split of the Democratic Party, giving rise to the Civic Party and League of Social Democrats.

Will history repeat?

I attended a church seminar last month in which Benny Tai, one of the founders of Occupy Central, said there will be a very narrow window of agreement on universal suffrage.

In the same meeting, legislator Starry Lee held out little hope for a positive outcome.

Starry’s mentor, Jasper Tsang, quoted several lines from the song The Impossible Dream from the 1972 Broadway classic Man Of La Mancha. (To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear the unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go.)

John Tsang added his voice in a blog post with “carpe diem” or “seize the day”, a Latin phrase made famous by the late comedian Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poets Society.

And in a not-so-subtle warning, Tsang said a whole generation will pay a heavy price and the historical responsibility would be hard to bear should Hong Kong choose not to seize the opportunity for political reform.

I’d give the last word to Stephen Lam: “Nothing is impossible with Him”.

Related stories:

Anti-Occupy Central marchers given cash, free lunch: reports

Rigid stance from Beijing will only fuel HK protests: Benny Tai

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EJ Insight writer