The words of a very wise and experienced Head of Chambers rang in my ears as I pondered Hong Kong’s recent election charade.
It was early days in my career at the Bar and, flushed with success, I proudly told him that I had won the last thirteen cases in a row, all for the same solicitor.
“Kiss of death dear boy,” he replied. “Statistically, you’re bound to lose soon, so they’ll drop you until you recover your winning streak.”
But it was what he said next that gave me inspiration.
“The important thing, is to lose well.”
Just in case I misunderstood him, he explained that solicitors were far more impressed by a barrister who made a first class job of handling a very difficult or even impossible case than just getting the desired result.
A case can be won for a variety of reasons wholly unconnected with your professional skill. It may simply be because it is unlosable or the other side’s witnesses collapse or the judge doesn’t believe them or simply that he dislikes your opponent.
Yet, if you leave court with your client’s appreciation warming your ears because he knows that everything that could have been done on his behalf had been done and done with professional skill and determination, you have indeed ‘lost well’.
What reminded me of these sage words was the manner in which retired judge Woo Kwok-hing conducted his campaign.
That he only garnered some 21 votes is no reflection of the quality of his candidacy, quite the opposite, it reflects the impoverished capacity and cognitive deficiency of those who failed to vote for him.
Both Carrie Lam and John Tsang have a long bureaucratic history of not answering questions or providing vacuous responses in order to conceal either the truth, their own ignorance or both, essential prerequisites for a politician.
Neither are capable of identifying with the bulk of Hongkongers, both far more accustomed to the adulation of their subordinates and the fawning attention of the icons of the business community who would curry favor with them. This what passes for ‘experience of administration’.
Woo’s ready accessibility by all sectors of the community and his refreshing candor marked him out as someone trustworthy, a quality markedly lacking in his opponents.
When asked a question about something he had no knowledge of, he had no hesitation in saying so. Unlike those inadequates who pretend knowledge lest people think less of them, he has the self-confidence to seek information. No truly competent judge puts up a pretense of knowledge when he knows that all he has to do is seek the assistance of counsel.
Had he been elected, the retired judge would have had access to the entire civil service to provide the information upon which he could base his decisions. The art of administration lies in the capacity to consider all the issues and then make an informed decision, something that a long and distinguished career on the Bench had equipped him to do.
Another admirable feature of Woo’s candidacy was his propensity to listen, probably the single characteristic that most distinguished him from Lam and Tsang, civil servants who not only failed to listen to public opinion but whose actions or inaction evidenced contempt for it.
The rules of natural justice require that both sides of an argument be ventilated and a decision reached which takes all those matters into consideration before judgment.
Regrettably, the hallmarks of the recent administration have been the flagrant ignoring and flouting of public opinion, a confrontational practice that has exacerbated tensions in society. Had he been afforded the opportunity, it is a racing certainty that Woo would not have fallen into such an abuse of power.
After the result of the votes was announced and the three candidates were approached by the press for their post-event comments, it was only Woo who took the journalists out of the designated press zone so that his remarks could be shared with the online media to whom the government had denied access, a common touch that even the media savvy Tsang failed to show.
The election committee members who rubber-stamped Beijing’s anointed candidate, instead of electing Woo, lost a remarkable opportunity to elect a genuine Hong Kong Chinese patriot, whose experience and integrity would have brought distinction and credibility to the office of Chief Executive.
Though Beijing must take responsibility for its crass inability to leave them alone, Hong Kong’s self-seeking sycophants who jumped to Beijing’s command must shoulder the greater blame; they were “like the base Indian who threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe”.
The polarization of Hong Kong under the administration of C.Y. Leung has been the greatest retrogression in the short history of the S.A.R.
In failing to elect Woo, we have lost our ‘El Cid’, someone who walked at ease amongst the people and who would have provided a paradigm to mend our fractured society for the common weal.
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