25 October 2016
(From top) The Democratic Party, Labor Party and Civic Party may not always be on the same page, but that need not be a cause for pessimism, as neither are the members of the pro-establishment camp.  Photo: HKEJ
(From top) The Democratic Party, Labor Party and Civic Party may not always be on the same page, but that need not be a cause for pessimism, as neither are the members of the pro-establishment camp. Photo: HKEJ

No need for democrats to wallow in gloom

A mood of deep pessimism has settled over the democratic camp ahead of the upcoming district council elections, but pessimism is dangerous and, as it happens, unnecessary.

Let us first look at what has prompted this gloomy outlook.

The heady days of optimism during last year’s mass Umbrella Movement are over, and there is, so it is said, little to show for these protests.

Pessimists maintain that the backlash is turning nasty.

The arrest of demonstrator Ken Tsang Kin-chiu, who was allegedly beaten up by seven police officers, has shocked many people.

Meanwhile other prominent protesters are being rounded up and put on trial, democrats are being hounded in the universities, and the triumphant anti-democrats are pursuing a take-no-prisoners policy in grabbing practically every official and semi-official position on offer.

With their infinitely superior financial resources, Beijing’s allies are buying support, paying demonstrators and even putting up fake democrat candidates to distort the election’s outcome.

I could go on, but much of this amounts to what we already know, namely that the pro-government camp has more resources than its opponents and it is backed and guided by functionaries of a powerful dictatorship.

So, nothing new here, but instead of wallowing in gloom, maybe it would be more constructive to look again at many of the reasons put forward for pessimism and view them in a different light.

It is perfectly true that the Umbrella Movement is no longer on the streets, but not on the streets is not the same as disappeared.

This movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of people, a great many from Hong Kong’s younger generation, who had previously kept well away from public affairs.

In its wake remain a great many activist groups who are finding new ways of expressing their commitment to the democratic movement.

Much of this activity is fairly invisible, because mainstream media ignores it.

However, even here there are grounds for optimism, because the internet is positively buzzing with new online media outlets, providing a first-class news and commentary service.

Many activists are simply exhausted, and some are cowed by the obvious determination of those in power to punish people who refuse to toe the line.

Yet, as ever, the magnificent people of Hong Kong step up to the plate when they are required to do so.

An obvious example are the mass protests against political meddling at the University of Hong Kong, and there will be others, because Hong Kong has a proud history of refusing to meekly accept abuse of power.

Meanwhile, pessimists have a field day despairing over the fractures in the democratic camp.

They may have a point, and questions are being asked about whether there is a guiding hand that has set out to exacerbate these divisions.

However, there is plenty of evidence that political fractures need no encouragement, as they are part of the system’s DNA.

This is why you can also see fractures and interesting divisions on the other side of the fence.

This was amplified by the debacle of the pro-government legislators failing to block the democrats’ successful bid to thwart the administration’s hopeless constitutional reform proposals.

But there is more, and much of it emanates from the divisive personality of the chief executive, who finds it easier to make enemies than friends.

The pro-government camp is far from being united.

The democrats can at least pride themselves on engaging in open debate, without needing to scuttle off to Western for orders.

And they can also take comfort from the fact that when it comes to the battle of fundamental ideas, they are allied with the majority of Hongkongers, who have not given up on the notion that the success of the “one country, two systems” concept lies in a rigorous defense of one of those systems and a determination to preserve what is unique and positive in Hong Kong.

The pessimists, however, maintain that the Chinese Communist Party is far too powerful to be challenged by puny Hong Kong and that reality lies in accepting things as they are.

The very history of the CCP, which began with a handful of men sitting in a shabby room in Shanghai, stands as testimony to the stupidity of this kind of defeatism.

And as for the idea that dictatorships can never be defeated, history delivers an even more forthright lesson, which is that not only do authoritarian states tumble, but they disappear with amazing speed.

So, if some democrats remain intent on self-flagellation, let them do so, but they should not be in such a great rush to place themselves on the wrong side of history.

The problem with history is that it is something of a long game, so those who think it can easily be changed are bound to be disappointed.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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