Govt must face the reality before it can pick up the pieces

November 19, 2019 18:28
Protesters clash with police outside Polytechnic University on Sunday. A series of misjudgments on the part of authorities have contributed to things getting out of hand in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

As the Yellow Vest Movement in France entered its second year over the past weekend, the people of Paris took to the streets again, with some of them lending their voices to protesters in Hong Kong.

Unlike the French protest movement, which has gradually shown signs of losing public support, the anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong are still going strong. Even after five months, public support or sympathy for the protesters is very much there.

According to a new poll conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute last week, 83 percent of the respondents agreed that the government bears the biggest responsibility for escalation of violence in Hong Kong, while 73 percent believed the police is to blame.

By comparison, only 40 percent said the protesters are responsible for the increased violence.

In other words, although protesters have made mistakes and their violent acts are to be condemned, the vast majority of the public still take the view that it is the government and the police who should bear the biggest responsibility for the continued social unrest.

Apparently, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's serious misjudgment of the situation at the onset of the anti-extradition bill protests and her continued refusal to establish an independent commission of inquiry into police conduct have served as a catalyst for the escalating confrontation between protesters and the police.

Contrary to the government's expectations, public opinion hasn’t turned against the radical protesters more than five months into the unrest, not least because of the fact that so far not a single police officer suspected of abuse of power has been held accountable.

How can the government hope to break the deadlock when there is so much public resentment toward the law enforcement personnel?

With regard to this pressing issue, former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing has put forward two suggestions.

Firstly, the administration should not pardon very serious crimes; and second, the chief executive should consider drawing a line on time for offering an amnesty to protesters. All those who have committed violence before a specified date could be pardoned, but the offer would be conditional upon the protesters stopping all further violence.

While it remains to be seen whether the chief executive would accept Tsang’s suggestions and yield a little on the bottom line of the city’s rule of law, we believe the administration must at least do one thing at this point: face the reality by reflecting on its series of misjudgments over the past five months as well as its failure to turn the tide of public opinion through relentless police crackdown.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 18

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal