Game of politics: why the opposition always wins

October 27, 2017 09:00
The opposition has been able to hold on to its vote share by branding itself as the sole defender of democracy and our core values while defining the establishment camp as Beijing's puppets. Photo: HKEJ

Have you ever wondered why Hong Kong's opposition always beats the establishment camp in elections that allow all eligible citizens to vote? The opposition’s vote share is always 60-40 or 55-45 percent in the geographical constituencies of Legislative Council elections where there is "one person, one vote". It’s the same in District Council elections.

Even in elections that came after the Occupy Movement, which many sectors of society opposed, the democracy camp still held on to its larger vote share. Why wasn’t the establishment camp able to break the traditional 60-40 vote share when the Occupy Movement – triggered by the opposition – had disrupted the lives of so many voters? It’s because the establishment camp is handicapped by what many voters see as its coziness with Beijing.

An inborn mistrust of China's communist leaders by Hong Kong people, who are accustomed to living in a free society, is the biggest reason why the pro-Beijing establishment camp has failed to break the opposition's grip on the popular vote before and after reunification. Not all who regularly vote for the opposition blindly support everything it does. Many opposition voters are against tactics such as filibustering in the Legislative Council.

But the opposition has been highly skillful in holding on to its vote share with a double strategy of branding itself as the sole defender of democracy and our core values and at the same time defining the establishment camp as a puppet that allows Beijing to meddle in Hong Kong's affairs. It has successfully exploited every misstep by establishment figures to plant in the public psyche that the establishment camp cannot be trusted. The establishment camp has consistently failed to counter this perception and to likewise brand opposition figures as hypocrites.

A perfect example of the establishment camp’s lack of political savvy in exploiting opposition double standards is the case of former financial secretary and failed chief executive candidate John Tsang Chun-wah who did not declare that he had taken up a non-paying job as host of new RTHK and Commercial Radio shows. When former chief executive Leung Chun-ying likewise failed to declare he had become a non-paid director of not-for-profit organizations that promoted China’s economic initiatives, the opposition viciously attacked him.

Instead of similarly attacking Tsang, the opposition sided with him, saying he didn’t have to declare since his shows are unpaid. But Leung wasn’t being paid either, so why did the opposition attack him? The opposition defended Tsang by saying he didn’t declare because he genuinely believed he didn’t have to. Leung didn’t believe he had to as well, so why the double standard? The opposition justified its double standard by saying Leung declared only after the media exposed his directorship. It even accused the government of double standards by asking Tsang to declare but not Leung.

The fact is the government asked Leung to declare after it learned of his directorship through the media. Likewise, it asked Tsang to declare after it learned of his intention to host radio shows. Leung complied with the government’s request but Tsang has refused. This proves the double-standard lies with the opposition, not the government. The opposition was so intent on defending Tsang that it even claimed his role on the RTHK show would be that of a guest, not a host.

That is such gibberish it boggles the mind. I am a TV host and I know the difference between a host and a guest. Guests are not on air every week and they don’t promote the shows. The hosts do that. Why has the establishment camp failed to capitalize on this blatant double standard by the opposition? The simple answer is that it still hasn’t learned the rough and tumble of politics. Often, the establishment camp, to which I include the government, is its worst enemy. It shoots itself in the foot without understanding the political consequences. It shot itself in the foot three times in the past few weeks. These blunders played right into the hands of the opposition.

Was it really necessary for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and leading establishment figure Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai to say the proposed law against abusing the national anthem could be made retroactive? Surely, they both know common law, which Hong Kong practises, doesn't allow laws to be made retroactive. The only way the anthem law can be made retroactive in Hong Kong is if Beijing decides to do it. But if it takes that step, the opposition will immediately point to it as yet another example of mainland meddling, aided by the establishment.

Banning British activist Benedict Rogers from entering Hong Kong was one of the biggest recent blunders by the government. It gave unlimited ammunition to the opposition to tell the world "one country, two systems" is dying. It could be that Beijing ordered the ban ahead of the 19th Communist Party Congress but surely our government could have explained to mainland officials that banning him would hurt Hong Kong’s image more than letting him enter.

Instead of expressing concern about the erosion of "one country, two systems", establishment leaders insisted every country has a right to decide who to allow in. That further cemented the public perception that the establishment camp is Beijing’s puppet. Yes, every country has a right to decide who to allow in but that right is normally exercised in cases involving suspected criminals, terrorists, and extreme political figures. Rogers doesn’t fit any of those categories.

Was it really necessary for the government to say it will revisit the two-tin baby milk powder rule for people departing Hong Kong? The rule has been working well to prevent mainland visitors from buying up all milk powder supplies, causing distress to local mothers. So why review the rule except to please the business sector, which has long demanded that it be scrapped.

Scrapping the two-tin rule will play into the hands of the opposition, which can justifiably say the government colludes with the business sector at the expense of ordinary people. Hong Kong is now a highly politicized city. The government and the establishment camp need to shape up by honing its political skills so it can play the game as well as the opposition.

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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.