24 October 2016
The recent lead contamination scandal has caused widespread concern among the public. Photo: HKEJ
The recent lead contamination scandal has caused widespread concern among the public. Photo: HKEJ

Why it’s time for the opposition to mount a major offensive

Hong Kong’s political environment has become more volatile following the rejection of the electoral reforms package in the legislature last month.

The bungled walkout of the pro-establishment camp which led to the defeat of the reform proposal has ruined Beijing’s plan to mount an all-out onslaught against the pan-democrats in the upcoming District Council and Legislative Council elections by labeling them as “universal suffrage killers”.

To make matters worse, the recent stock market crash on the mainland and the water contamination scandal in Hong Kong have put Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the pro-establishment camp on the defensive.

Leung might have initially thought that he could gain popularity by capitalizing on livelihood issues, thereby increasing his chance of getting re-elected in 2017. But with Beijing currently occupied with the economic and market woes in the mainland, he has had to adjust his strategy.

Leung sought an audience with Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress, during a recent official visit to Beijing. The meeting was aimed at creating an impression that he has the whole-hearted support of paramount Beijing leaders and that it would deter other CE hopefuls.

Unfortunately, things didn’t happen the way Leung wanted. China’s state news agency Xinhua did not mention a word about the “high praise” that Leung claimed to have secured in his meeting with Zhang.

Meanwhile, to Leung’s dismay, Xinhua gave massive coverage to Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s Beijing visit, during which he spoke extensively on the role that Hong Kong can play in China’s “One Belt One Road” strategy.

It was almost like a terrible slap in the face for Leung, who’s been striving to assume a more critical role in the financial affairs of Hong Kong.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor suffered a heavy defeat in the political reform campaign and was demoted to the position of the government’s civic cleaning squad captain. But she staged a major political comeback amid the recent lead-in-water contamination scandal at some public housing estates.

The fact that she, together with Legco President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, has set Leung straight on the pledge that he will put aside politics in the days ahead suggests that Beijing has already begun planning for the 2017 CE election, and obviously Leung is no longer the favorite candidate in the eyes of Beijing’s top leaders.

The recent lead contamination scandal has caused widespread concern among the public. While the Democratic Party has made a major comeback by being the first to reveal the scandal, the pro-establishment camp’s hands are tied because they have been ordered to downplay the issue.

In order to survive in the upcoming elections, the pro-establishment parties will certainly have to distance themselves from the scandal-ridden Leung administration.

Even though Leung has tried to put an end to the scandal by announcing an official inquiry into the contamination incident, he is unlikely to be able to breathe easy. As long as he tries to limit the scope of the inquiry to prevent China State Construction from having to shoulder some blame for the contamination, the inquiry is unlikely to redeem the lost credibility of his administration.

Although the pro-establishment parties have all rushed to collect water samples for testing, the public has obviously lost confidence in them, believing that they are collaborating with the government to cover the truth.

In fact the repercussions of this lead contamination saga could be far-reaching, and the scandal is likely to have profound implications for the results of the upcoming District Council election. The recent victory of Kwok Wing-kin representing the Labour Party in the District Council by-election in Tai Po, which has long been the stronghold of the pro-establishment camp, is a clear demonstration of how public opinion has shifted in favor of the pan-democratic camp.

Given that, the new generation of activists arising from the Umbrella Movement should stop indulging in the pointless street rampages against meaningless targets such as the so-called “dama”.

Instead, they should seize the opportunity and stay focused on community service in order to establish their support base on community levels. Only by doing so can they really change the political landscape through elections and truly make a difference. The more they continue with their reckless street rampages, the more likely that Leung can consolidate his support.

Livelihood issues and democracy are not mutually exclusive. Any political slogan and proposition that neglect peoples’ livelihood is nothing but nonsense, and are bound to be shrugged off by the public.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 22.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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