Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Hong Kong’s political scene is a fraught affair. The political parties that get elected don’t govern. The Chief Executive with his ministers drive and make policy. The members of the Legislative Council are supposed to hold the government to account. In reality, that means they either act to support or oppose the government. And, that’s exactly what we’ve got. The so-called pro-democrats - ‘Pan-Dems’ - on one side and the pro-government on the other. The resulting system is dysfunctional.
The pro-government parties support the government. There’s a surprise. The main opposition, the Pan-Dems are a fragmented group. About the only thing, they agree on is their loathing of the Chief Executive, CY Leung. Their inability to muster a common agenda beyond that blunts their efforts. Add to that mix the usual grandstanding of certain prima donnas. Plus a couple of unrefined demagogues like Long Hair (LEUNG Kwok-hung). The result, a complete mess.
In most instances, the government gets its way. Pushing through policies despite delaying tactics by the Pan-Dems. In a few cases, they succeed in blocking things. None of this is classy or refined. The debates alternate between boring speeches then stunts aimed at getting media attention. The stunts make the news. Most are over in seconds. Yet they earn the perpetrators a reputation beyond their actual efforts. Sustained in office as a protest vote, many of Pan-Dems are one agenda individuals. Ask them to construct a coherent argument on economics or trade agreements, then watch them flounder.
Underpinning this the democratic forces detesting the Chief Executive with a visceral hatred. At times it seemed as if they could do nothing except shout, hectoring the public with embellished tales of CY's alleged crimes. They have a vendetta going. This passion, that approaches an obsession, frequently interrupts parliamentary business. Hopeless debates to censure and impeach CY, burn up time and energy. It's all an unwelcome distraction. The Pan-Dems wanted CY destroyed. There is poison in the air and vitriol in every argument. Yet, despite this all-consuming desire, simple numbers count against them. Outnumbered by the opposition, they tilt at windmills. In the process displaying a basic misunderstanding of maths plus stunning political immaturity.
Good public policy doesn’t come from banana throwing or yelling. It comes from reasoned debate, thoughtful arguments and civilised behaviour. Unfortunately, Hong Kong’s parliament lacks all these features.
Switching over. The other side is a collection of Beijing-backed entities, self-serving business groups and others seeking to curry favour. They back the government, most of the time. With a few exceptions, they are an unimaginative lot. Despite this, their organisations reach deep into the grass roots community. They enjoy strong support in traditional pro-China areas. Beholden to Beijing, the pro-government side is an easy target for the Pan-Dems. At times it seems they are giving the Pan-Dems all the help they needed. Clumsy speeches, avoidable gaffes and outright collusion with the government tarnish's them. Even Beijing must despair at their bumbling.
On a positive note, our parliament is largely irrelevant to the functioning of Hong Kong. And that's the bizarre thing. Hong Kong's god-awful messy political setup has not affected the economy. By any standard, we are doing well. If you want to work, and most do, the jobs are there. Yes, property prices are high and poverty is an issue. Yet, that does not distract from the fact that things work despite the political shenanigans.
Looking to the future. Democratic reform is stalled. A foolish decision by the Pan-Dems in 2015 saw modest proposals voted down. Whilst far from ideal, these proposals were movement in the right direction. Pan-Dems chanting their ‘all or nothing’ mantra went against them. Pro-government groups helped by walking out in an attempt to delay the vote. A member was missing . Poor coordination resulted in a landslide defeat. That gave the rest of the world the impression there was no support for the proposals.
Having seen off Occupy and achieved no progress with its proposals, Beijing withdrew. It’s in no hurry to make new moves. Meanwhile, its focus is on economic progress and attacking calls for independence. China’s position is strengthened by a weakened U.S. under the maverick Trump. Elsewhere, the UK and Europe are distracted with Brexit. Hong Kong is not top on anyone’s agenda.
Politics will continue to be difficult, with no significant progress on democracy. The massive street protests of 2014 are unlikely to reappear. The lame author of Occupy continues to make noises from his Ivory Tower at Hong Kong University. He fails to recognise his support base has dropped off. At the same time, those politicians who denigrate China can expect little sympathy. Their constituency of the disaffected may be impressed, no one else is.
So, it's no change.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.