CE election exposes our broken political process

March 17, 2017 11:00
Hong Kong's chief executive election, which is seeing a battle between Woo Kwok-hing (L), Carrie Lam (C) and John Tsang (R), has brought to fore the deep divisions in local society. Photo: HKEJ

When the Election Committee gathers on March 26, it will do two things. Hong Kong people with one eye open will see only the process of the committee's 1,194 voters selecting a new chief executive. But there is something deeper which only those with two eyes open will see. More than in previous elections, including those of the Legislative Council, the 2017 chief executive election will expose in the starkest way yet how broken our political process has become. It is a process that has sown not only growing hostility towards the central government but bitter divisions in our society.

To understand how torn our society has become since the handover, you need only look at which three candidates got nominated, why they were nominated, who nominated them, and which candidate did not get nominated despite her proven experience in government and as a politician. Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, once Hong Kong's most popular minister, is now loathed by the opposition and much of the younger generations. Her hundreds of nominations came only from the so-called establishment camp.

John Tsang Chun-wah, once mocked even by the opposition for always getting his budget surpluses embarrassingly wrong as financial secretary, is now loved by the opposition and the younger generations. His nominations came mostly from the so-called democracy camp, with a small sprinkling of support from the establishment camp. He and his supporters have used this to boast that he is the only candidate with cross-camp support. But that is stretching the truth in the most dishonest way. Only a fraction of his nominations came from a section of the establishment camp which pretends to be the establishment camp.

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who sprang out of nowhere after a lifetime in the legal sector, is a convenient prop for the opposition and not taken seriously by the central government. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who many in the Election Committee consider very qualified, failed even to qualify as a candidate after falling victim to the cold war between the opposition and the central government.

Some may deem it an exaggeration to describe the hostile mistrust between the opposition, which is backed by about half the population, and the central government as a cold war. But make no mistake, it is indeed a cold war. How else would you describe a struggle between two forces at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum? One side values the democratic freedoms it takes for granted and fears the other side wants to erode those freedoms. The other side survives through a one-party system and eyes with great suspicion anything that may threaten its grip on power.

The March 26 election will be the fiercest battle yet in this war. Tsang, backed by half the population through the opposition, and Lam, backed by the central government through the establishment camp, are their proxies. That was clearly evident during the various debates for chief executive candidates. Woo is just a sideshow who the opposition uses as a facade to show that it wants genuine competition.

If it really wants genuine competition, why did it not also nominate Ip, and why nominate Woo but bundle all its votes for Tsang on March 26? All three candidates know the election has become a tug-of-war between the opposition, which insists Beijing should have no say in the election, and Beijing, which insists sovereignty gives it a say.

I agree with Ip who said on my TV show that the coming five years will be a rocky ride for Hong Kong whoever wins the election. In fact, I too have said this many times before. What we need to ask is why, 20 years after reunification, a chief executive election brings despair instead of hope. Why is there just a choice of the lesser of two evils for the opposition and just one candidate trusted by Beijing? Why is it that the candidate Beijing trusts is distrusted by the opposition? Why is it that the candidate the opposition trusts is mistrusted by Beijing? If that is not an ideological cold war, what is?

These are soul-searching questions that cannot go unanswered if we want to survive as a competitive society in a competitive 21st century. They must be answered if Beijing wants to show the world reunification under one country, two systems is a success. They must be answered if the opposition wants to show Beijing and the world it has accepted reunification in heart and mind instead of just words.

But don't expect soul-searching anytime soon. Our society is yet to be politically ready or mature enough for that. We are a society in denial. Neither the central government nor the opposition has shown any willingness to find middle ground. One side insists one country supersedes two systems. The other side insists two systems trumps one country. Both sides believe it will be seen as political weakness to give even an inch of ground for the overall good of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has already lost two generations of young people who want nothing to do with the mainland. This hostility towards the sovereign power fueled the Occupy protest and the independence movement. The movement is now lying low but don’t be lulled into believing it has died. About half the population still finds it distasteful to wake up to the reality that Hong Kong is now a part of China. Beijing should be alarmed by this but its communist culture, which offers minimal path to understanding Hong Kong culture, prevents it from winning hearts and minds.

Those who find it distasteful to wake up to the fact that Hong Kong is now a part of China, and who use the opposition as their knight in shining armor, likewise fail to understand communist culture. All they need to do is look at how the Communist Party stood up to the Occupy protest, the independence movement, and how it is now standing up to Taiwan, South Korea's installation of a US anti-missile defense system, and intrusions into the South China Sea. If they open their eyes to the realities that are there for all to see, they will know their tug-of-war with Beijing is not only doomed to fail but is also a lose-lose for Hong Kong.

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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.