23 October 2016
By saying that anyone is more acceptable than Leung Chun-ying (left) and Li Kwok-cheung, (right), pan-democrats are in fact saying they are so politically biased that they would even accept less qualified people to fill important positions. Photos: HKEJ
By saying that anyone is more acceptable than Leung Chun-ying (left) and Li Kwok-cheung, (right), pan-democrats are in fact saying they are so politically biased that they would even accept less qualified people to fill important positions. Photos: HKEJ

Has Hong Kong become ungovernable?

During the emotionally charged months leading up to last June’s Legislative Council vote on the central government’s political reform framework for Hong Kong, many leading politicians, including Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong and Legislative Council chairman Tsang Yok-sing, had warned that Hong Kong would become ungovernable if the pan-democrats voted down the reform framework.

Pan-democrats ignored the warning, arguing that Beijing’s reform framework was fake democracy.

They insisted they would rather stick to the current system of an election committee of 1,200 people choosing a chief executive anointed by Beijing than a new universal suffrage system that allows nearly five million eligible voters to vote for a chief executive from a list of candidates pre-screened by Beijing.

Nearly six months have passed since the Legislative Council rejected the central government’s reform framework.

Has Hong Kong become ungovernable?

The answer to that question depends very much on the context in which the word ungovernable is used.

Hong Kong has, of course, not become ungovernable if the word is defined as a breakdown in law and order.

The rejection of the reform package has not plunged Hong Kong into a state of anarchy.

We are still a functioning society governed by the rule of law. But is our society functioning as well as it should?

Hong Kong is indeed not functioning as well as it should. Political bitterness has further polarized society.

But instead of saying Hong Kong has become ungovernable, it is more accurate to say the rejection of the reform framework, combined with Beijing’s clear statement that it will not alter the framework to meet the demands of the democracy camp, has made it impossible for the government to have a clear vision to move Hong Kong forward.

Leung Chun-ying has said he will now put aside the democracy issue and focus on livelihood issues.

But that is wishful thinking.

Hong Kong can never move forward until the democracy issue is settled.

As long as the current undemocratic political system remains unchanged, the government will face opposition in almost everything it tries to do.

In my many years as a journalist, I have never seen this level of opposition to virtually every government policy proposal.

When even routine things such as the creation of an innovation and technology bureau, the appointment of a university pro-vice-chancellor, the appointments of new chairmen and members to university councils, a football match between Hong Kong and China and even the launch of a Facebook account by the chief executive are politicized, Hong Kong has truly lost its way.

We are stuck in a mud pool of our own making while our regional rivals are overtaking us in a highly competitive globalized world.

I cannot see how we can get out of this mud pool unless there is fresh thinking by all stakeholders, but there is not even the slightest sign of that at present.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is considered by many Hong Kong people as a highly divisive leader and he is deeply loathed by his political enemies.

This loathing is driven solely by a hatred of him on a personal level rather than a dislike for his policies, many of which are in fact populist policies his enemies from the democracy camp would otherwise support if Leung Chun-ying was not the chief executive.

Such personal hatred of Leung Chun-ying by the opposition camp means Hong Kong will continue to be mired in the mud pool for the remainder of his term.

That, in turn, means Hong Kong will continue to be ungovernable in the context that all policy proposals will be opposed for no other reason than for the sake of being opposed.

It is the only way the opposition camp can demonstrate its loathing of Leung Chun-ying.

But does this opposition for the sake of opposition serve Hong Kong’s best interests?

The establishment camp would, of course, say it hurts Hong Kong’s interests.

The democracy camp knows it would be politically unwise to say opposing all Leung Chun-ying’s policy proposals for the sake of opposing them is good for Hong Kong’s interests.

So instead of saying that, the opposition camp just blames Leung Chun-ying for being a divisive leader.

How can Hong Kong free itself from the current toxic political atmosphere?

That depends very much on who becomes our next chief executive when Leung Chun-ying’s first term ends in 2017.

Many in the opposition camp like to use the expression “Anyone but C.Y.” to mean that anyone anointed by Beijing would be more acceptable than Leung Chun-ying.

Pan-democrats despise him so much that they prefer negotiating directly with the mainland’s communist leaders on political reforms than with him even though they also despise China’s one-party state.

The opposition camp also likes to use the expression “Anyone but Arthur Li Kwok-cheung” to mean that anyone would be more acceptable than him as the chairman of the Hong Kong University council.

Both expressions make very little logical sense.

They conflict with the widely accepted logic that the most capable and qualified person should fill a job.

By saying that anyone is more acceptable than Leung Chun-ying and Li Kwok-cheung, pan-democrats are in fact saying they are so politically biased that they would even accept less qualified people to fill important positions.

If you are willing to put aside your political bias and judge Leung Chun-ying purely on his policies and job performance, you will have to admit he has achieved more than his predecessors.

Similarly, if you are willing to put aside your political bias to judge Li Kwok-cheung, you will have to admit he is more than qualified to become the chairman of the HKU council.

His opponents fault him for competing with HKU while he was vice-chancellor of the Chinese University.

They say that proves he has a hatred for HKU but surely, it proves instead that he will try hard to make the place he works for the best.

If you are playing for Manchester United, you’ll try your hardest to compete with Barcelona but if you switch from Manchester United to Barcelona, you will try your best to beat your former team Manchester United.

Even though Li Kwok-cheung competed with HKU when he was CU vice-chancellor, it is reasonable to expect that he will try his best to outdo CU if he becomes HKU council chairman.

But political bias has warped logical thinking among many in the opposition camp.

They loathe Leung Chun-ying and Li Kwok-cheung so much that they don’t care who becomes the next chief executive or the next HKU council chairman as long as it’s not Leung Chun-ying and Li Kwok-cheung.

These two men are both very strong-willed and they are the two men the opposition camp hates most. Is that a coincidence?

I don’t think so.

As I have said before, the opposition camp is not used to strong-willed opponents.

Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen were not strong-willed leaders.

The democracy camp knew how to bully them and they didn’t know how to fight back.

But Leung Chun-ying and Li Kwok-cheung won’t let anyone bully them and they know how to fight back.

That’s why I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two men are the most hated by the opposition camp.

No one knows if Leung Chun-ying plans to run again in 2017.

Only he knows but most people believe he wants to run again.

I don’t think the central government will decide on the next chief executive until after next year’s Legco elections.

The outcome of the election will be an important factor for Beijing to consider in deciding who should become the next chief executive.

But whether it is Leung Chun-ying or a new person, Hong Kong will still be ungovernable in the context that it won’t function as well as it should unless the issue of democracy is resolved.

Hong Kong will be ungovernable to a greater degree if Leung Chun-ying wins because the opposition camp, regardless of how many seats it wins in next year’s Legco elections, will continue to oppose every policy proposal he puts forwards.

It will be less ungovernable if Beijing anoints another leader because the opposition camp will at least try to compromise on some issues with a person they don’t loathe as much as Leung Chun-ying.

But the only way Hong Kong can free itself from the mud pool and move forward is for all sides to settle the democracy issue once and for all.

Putting the issue aside is not an option.

This article appeared in the December 2015 issue of Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.

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