Quit the democrats, land a job!

December 15, 2017 18:00
Membership of democrat organizations is most definitely not the key to high office in Hong Kong. Photo: Bloomberg

One of the surest ways of being appointed to high office in Hong Kong is to abandon membership of a pro-democracy party and either join the government and or sign up to a pro-establishment party.

Without exception all the high profile turncoats from pro-democracy organizations have secured high office.

Today's most prominent 'reformed' democrat is Ronnie Tong who not only sits in Carrie Lam's Executive Council but is also increasingly wheeled out to be the voice of the government while most other members of the council lurk in the shadows.

It helps that Tong is articulate in both Chinese and English and is considerably more intellectually grounded than the average member of the pro-government camp. He, of course, would deny that he has joined the camp but this denial is akin to joining a soccer team while suggesting you might lob a ball into the net for the opposing side.

Yet Tong is adamant that his views have not changed but that he has become increasingly alienated by the democrats' tactics. There is no reason to disbelieve him nor is it fair to simply accuse Tong of opportunism because people have a right to change their minds and reassess their goals.

It is somewhat harder to make this argument in the case of Lau Kong-wah who was an active member of the United Democrats (a precursor to the Democratic Party) until he lost his Legco seat in 1991. Lau, like Tong, then set up a new organization claiming to be committed to finding a middle way but he had few takers for his new plan so he joined the DAB and began a steady climb into public office that has culminated with his appointment as the Secretary for Home Affairs.

Another democrat pioneer, Anthony Cheung, followed a similar path, establishing another supposedly middle of the road outfit which he left to join Leung Chun-ying's government as Secretary for Transport and Housing. Before that he landed a plum job heading what was then the Institute for Education. Unlike Lau he did not actually join a pro-government party but became one of the leading apologists for the deeply unpopular Leung administration.

In parenthesis it looks very much as though this cluster of so-called middle of the road organizations serve no real purpose aside from serving as a transition point for turncoat democrats. Other than that they have a zero track record of success in attracting public support.

Meanwhile Law Chi-kwong, a Democratic Party founder, has been picked up by Carrie Lam to serve as her Secretary for Labour and Welfare. Law is scrupulous in confining his activity to the affairs of his department and it should be noted that he has a long history of involvement in welfare issues and a genuine commitment to improving welfare conditions. He has said that he now believes that the best way of achieving his goals is to work within the system.

Then there is the curious case of barrister Anna Wu, a longtime democracy activist who joined Leung’s Executive Council and became its de-facto liberal voice, even acting as a go-between on some of the occasions when the hardline Chief Executive felt the need to reach out beyond the serried ranks of pro-government supporters. Wu has since removed herself from public life and is widely shunned by her former democrat colleagues, while never having been fully embraced by the pro-government circle.

One of the people she worked closest with in a previous incarnation as a legislator was Christine Loh, who, much to the amazement of her friends, joined the Leung administration as the number two in the environment department. Like Law, Loh came to the job with a long history of involvement in the field and like Law she made a point of only talking about her direct area of responsibility, remaining markedly silent on other aspects of the administration's policies. She too believed that working in the system gave her a way of making things happen in an area where she had strong commitments.

Therefore it is lazy and possibly inaccurate to accuse those who have departed from the democratic camp in search of office of being little more than opportunists.

Nevertheless it is notable that movement between political zones only travels in one direction, not least because membership of democrat organizations is most definitely not the key to high office, career advancement or indeed any other kind of material benefit.

Some of the turncoats are indeed opportunists while others are naïve in believing that somehow by working within the system they can change it.

They really need to brush up on their Leninist studies to discover how the old Bolshevik liked to work with people like themselves and the extent to which he relished their usefulness counterposed by the ease of their dispensability. The Chinese Communist Party has changed a great deal but its leaders are very familiar with Comrade Lenin's work and in Hong Kong they put it to good use.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author