Hong Kong has reached a political dead end

March 15, 2016 08:42
Whichever side wins in the September Legco elections, little can be done to improve Hong Kong in the absence of a willingness by all parties and the government to compromise. Photo: Epoch Times

You can change Hong Kong this coming September.

I wish I could say you have a chance to change it for the better. But the sad reality is that you cannot.

It doesn’t really matter which way you vote in September’s Legislative Council elections.

Our politics have now become so divisive that Hong Kong will continue to be an angry city dominated by rancorous politics regardless of whether the so-called democracy camp or the so-called establishment camp wins.

This will be the case even if voters choose to keep the status quo so that neither side wins.

A politically divided city that sometimes erupts in violence is the new normal for Hong Kong.

The Mong Kok riot on the first day of the Lunar New Year proved in graphic terms that the old Hong Kong we knew is gone for good.

We must all learn to live with this new normal of protests becoming more and more violent with no solutions in sight to heal our society.

Some will say I am too pessimistic. But the truth is I am being realistic.

Let me explain why you cannot change Hong Kong for the better, whichever way you vote in September’s Legco elections.

Many people may choose to vote for pan-democrats because they are angry about the mainland’s abduction of bookseller Lee Bo and four of his associates for selling books critical of the Communist Party.

And many may vote for establishment camp candidates because they are angry at the way young rioters set fires, hurled bricks and fought with police throughout the night in Mong Kok on the first day of the Lunar New Year.

But it won’t make any difference whichever side wins.

Neither side has a strategy or the political courage to unite Hong Kong.

Supposing the so-called democracy camp wins at least 35 of the 70 Legco seats.

Occupy Central co-initiator Benny Tai Yiu-ting has proposed a strategy to do this.

He used the English word “enemy” to describe the so-called pro-establishment camp during media interviews about his proposed strategy.

His use of the word “enemy” to describe the establishment camp already shows how rancorous our politics has become.

The establishment camp consists of Legco and district council members, the Leung Chun-ying administration, and the central government.

It is common knowledge that many in the democracy camp consider Leung Chun-ying and the central government as enemies.

But should establishment camp Legco members and district councilors also be regarded as enemies?

Over 800,000 people voted for establishment camp candidates in the 2012 Legco elections.

If the establishment camp is the enemy, then the 800,000 voters who supported the camp are also enemies by association.

How can the democracy camp unite Hong Kong if it wins in September when it considers the Hong Kong and central governments and 800,000 voters as enemies?

Perhaps Tai Yiu-ting should have said “political opponent” instead of “enemy”.

He believes it will strengthen the hand of the so-called democracy camp if it can win at least 35 Legco seats.

Yes, the hand of the pan-democrats in Legco will indeed be stronger if they control half the seats.

But what’s the use of this stronger hand in practical terms?

Legco's power is limited

The only use that I can see is that the pan-democrats will find it far easier to block government policies if they control at least 35 votes.

But they are already quite successful now in delaying and blocking government policies through filibusters and quorum calls.

They cannot propose and push through their own policies even if they have control of half of Legco because the constitution, which provides for an executive-led government for Hong Kong, greatly limits the power of Legco to propose policies.

Important policies must come from the government.

Legco only has the power to block such policies, like it did with the central government’s political reform framework for the 2017 election for chief executive.

And it needs to be understood that two can play at the game of filibusters and quorum calls.

If the pan-democrats win half the Legco seats and try to push through even non-binding motions, such as condemning the June 4, 1989, crackdown, the establishment camp can thwart this by using the democracy camp’s tactic of filibusters and quorum calls.

It would be foolish for the democracy camp to think that if it wins over half the Legco seats it can proclaim that Hong Kong's people have voted for so-called genuine democracy and force the central government to allow it.

The central government will never allow genuine democracy as defined by the democracy camp.

It did not allow it even after the 79-day Occupy civil disobedience protest, which paralyzed parts of the city.

And it will not allow it even if Hong Kong people give the democracy camp a major victory in the September Legco elections.

It should be clear by now that Beijing’s top priority is national security.

That’s why it even risked damaging the "one country, two systems" principle by detaining Lee Bo.

Beijing will not undermine national security by allowing an election system for Hong Kong that could produce a chief executive it does not trust, especially now that so many young people are willing to use violent means to agitate for self-rule and even independence.

I do not want to belittle Tai Yiu-ting.

I consider him a friend. He has been on my television show several times, and he was kind enough to write a foreword for one of my books.

But I just do not see how so-called genuine democracy can be furthered if the pan-democrats win half the Legco seats.

How much or how little democracy Hong Kong has is in the hands of the central government. Nothing can change that.

Tai Yiu-ting believed he could force the hand of Beijing with Occupy Central.

The civil disobedience protest, which came to be known as the Umbrella Movement, caught the attention of the whole world.

Did it bring the central government to its knees? Of course not.

Instead of allowing so-called genuine democracy, the central government became even tougher toward Hong Kong.

Now let’s suppose the establishment camp wins such a big victory in September’s election that the democracy camp no longer has enough votes to block policies in the same way it blocked the political reform framework for the 2017 election for chief executive.

The central government would then most likely reintroduce the same reform framework for the 2022 election for chief executive.

As we all know, the framework allows one person one vote, but people can only vote for candidates prescreened by a nominating committee.

That’s why the democracy camp voted it down as fake democracy.

But if the establishment camp wins big in September, it will have enough votes to easily pass it.

The central government would most likely also instruct the Hong Kong government to reintroduce the controversial Article 23 national security legislation, which was abandoned in 2003 after mass street protests against it.

Would it bring political unity and harmony if a victory by the establishment camp in September gives it enough votes to pass Article 23 legislation and Beijing’s framework for the 2022 election for chief executive?

Of course not.

A part of society, especially the younger generation, will see it as the central government imposing its policies on Hong Kong.

They will hate the establishment camp even more for kowtowing to Beijing’s wishes.

The establishment camp will be seen as the enemy by a part of society even though it can legitimately claim it had a mandate from voters to approve the framework and Article 23.

That’s why I say Hong Kong will be as divided as it is now regardless of which side wins.

In reality, everyone will be a loser.

Hong Kong people have dug themselves a hole and they are sinking deeper into it every day.

Is there a way out of this hole?

Only one way out of this mess

Yes, there is always a way out of a predicament, but you have to know how to find the right door.

The first step is to accept the fact that Hong Kong is part of China and that China is ruled by the Communist Party.

Hong Kong’s freedoms allow people to hate the Communist Party, but it is futile to fight it.

The second step is for the pan-democrats and young people to understand that they are free to hate Leung Chun-ying but must accept the fact that he is the chief executive and he has Beijing’s support.

They have to realize that Hong Kong can only have a democratic system that Beijing trusts.

The third step is for the democracy camp, particularly the Civic Party, to be willing to cooperate with Leung Chun-ying to find middle ground.

The Civic Party must end the stupidity of boycotting him because they refuse to accept that he is the chief executive.

The Democratic Party must end the childishness of refusing even to invite him to its anniversary dinners.

The democracy camp must also not allow radical young groups to set the political agenda or tell it what to do.

In return, Leung Chun-ying must end his hostile attitude toward the democracy camp, and the central government must trust Hong Kong people and listen more to their views instead of using a hardline approach.

Sadly, I do not see any of this happening any time soon.

Neither side is willing to compromise.

That’s why I say we cannot change Hong Kong for the better.

And that’s why I have said in past articles that it’s game over for Hong Kong.

This article appeared in Chinese in the March 2016 issue of Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly. (Android, iOS)

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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.