The people have spoken but the CENO hears absolutely nothing

November 29, 2019 17:00
Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to media on Tuesday, following Sunday's District Council elections. Photo: Reuters

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO), is at it again. She has yet to encounter a setback that cannot be transformed into a disaster.

So, even after the myth about the government enjoying the support of a "silent majority" was unceremoniously crushed in the District Council elections, the CENO made it her business to declare that the outcome would be resolutely ignored.

Yet again she says she will be "humbly listening" in the aftermath of an unequivocal rebuff to herself and the tattered remains of her administration.

She’s listening so hard that she’s already made it clear that although the vast majority of district councilors were elected on manifestos supporting the protesters’ five demands, she will not be making a single concession.

Instead of an independent judicial inquiry into the police force, something even many pro-establishment supporters concede is necessary, Lam really believes she can get away with establishing a committee to look into "underlying social issues" which she claims lie behind the protests and, oh yes, there might also be a glance at some of the political issues, but she is insistent that the focus must be on anything but what people are protesting about.

Meanwhile, the defeated anti-democrats are clucking around muttering about the unfairness of the electoral process (something they did not notice when they were winning) and, as a leaked telephone conversation with the supreme Beijing loyalist Maria Tam Wai-chu has revealed, they are wondering whether there is a way of disqualifying the people who won the election.

Little mentioned so far is the chief executive’s power to install unelected members on the councils. To date this power has been exclusively used to give seats to anti-democrats, a one-sided arrangement justified on grounds that the anti-democrats held the largest number of seats. That claim can hardly be made anymore but what’s the betting that Lam will not pluck another bunch of five-star-flag wavers for these posts?

The most extraordinary aspect of the District Council elections was that the anti-democrats actually expected to win because they believed that the public had finally turned against the protests on account of the violence and inconvenience they had stirred. There is little doubt that this forecast was confidently delivered to the bosses in Beijing who in turn allowed the vote to go ahead.

To be fair, even the most optimistic democrats were hesitant in predicting results that saw them decisively taking control of all but one of the district councils, yet anyone with the slightest awareness of public sentiment was aware that the anti-democrats were going to take a beating.

No doubt the Communist Party will soon find ways of punishing officials who got it so wrong but is unlikely to reflect on why its people are so woefully out of touch and why its handpicked local operatives are quite so useless.

As matters stand, they are holding the line as if nothing happened on election day. They continue to blabber on about the need to stop violence, even though the election was conducted in a peaceful manner, and they continue to believe that a potent mixture of threats and intransigence will somehow resolve the problem.

What, emphatically, will be ignored is the people’s verdict of distrust in the administration, revulsion against police activity and a desire for the reassertion of the autonomy promised to Hong Kong by the very Communist Party that is undermining it by the day.

If this determination to ignore the results of the election remains undiminished, there can be little doubt that protesters will again revert to the streets and that there will be an upsurge in the violence which the pro-China camp says needs to be curbed.

On the other hand, the price of lowering the temperature is relatively low. Of course, Lam and a number of her waxwork ministers will have to go but, then again, they are barely able to do anything anyway. More problematic but certainly not impossible is finding the backbone to stand up to the increasingly assertive police force by telling them that if what they have been saying about acting within the law and with restraint is true, they have nothing to fear from an independent inquiry into their activities.

This would be a start but, of course, more needs to follow. As history has unflinchingly shown, governments have to take the initiative in defusing tension and need to do so in a meaningful way because the alternatives are very ugly.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.