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The Shambles of Democracy
It’s no surprise that the record low turnout at the de-facto referendum last Sunday dealt a blow to the democrats. But what turned off voters wasn’t just Beijing’s fury, or the boycott by the pro-China parties, or Chief Executive Donald Tsang and his ministers’ declaration that they wouldn’t participate. It was the alliance of the gang of five, a beauty-and-the-beast marriage between the intellectual elite such as Tanya Chan and street fighters like Cheung-mo (Long Hair) that confused voters as much as a Hammer production of a Dracula movie incongruously starring acting heavyweights Christopher Lee and Meryl Streep as his wife.
Long before the mass resignations of the five in January, Hong Kong voters had been fed up with the in-fighting among the pan-democratic camp. The daggers were drawn when veteran democrat Szeto Wah, who doubted the motivation of the aggressive “Mad Dog” Raymond Wong Yuk-man, wondered out loud whether he had a private agenda. Wong responded with abuse against the long-respected former leader. A witch-hunt was then launched with fingers being pointed at leading members of the Democratic Party, who sided with Szeto and thought that it would be too risky to raise the political stakes at this moment. Some jiggery-pokery was suspected as a rankled Ronny Tong, a leading Civic Party member, tried to mediate the feud. It was a typical Chinese political burlesque, exposed to divide-and-rule strategies, which Beijing is extremely good at. Hence came the shambles.
The five emerged as an amateurish troupe. Wong is a barking demagogue, worthy of his nickname “Mad Dog,” and subject to allegations of large gambling debts. Cheung-mo is a Trotskyist and a romantic follower of Che, the militant Latin American Marxist (who is very much misunderstood by the history-blind Hong Kong Chinese), often seen guzzling beer in Lan Kwai Fong. The pair is a bit like Honore Mirabeau and Georges Danton of the French Revolution—both strong and charismatic figures, but not the stuff of good leaders. But it is the incorruptible Szeto Wah with whom I would lay my bet of trust. As a bachelor who firmly believes in democracy and liberty with a long-standing record of undauntedly fighting British colonialism, the Chinese human rights fighter is never known for being interested in money or sex. As a former secondary school teacher, his mellow and urbane character made him a local version of Uncle Ho Chi Minh, rather than the bloodthirsty Maximilien Robespierre.
But Uncle Szeto was sidelined by the five and his followers were branded as traitors ready to kowtow to Beijing in the name of political compromise. Despite the scene of the Red Shirts on the streets in Bangkok being such a tempting parallel for people-power revolutions, the Mad Dog and his clique failed in their mission. Perhaps it’s not their fault. Perhaps we as Hongkongers are far from ready to scrap the functional constituencies, unlike the French who angrily withdrew from the Assembly of the Three Estates and stormed the Bastille more than 200 years ago. It is money, perhaps, rather than the quest for justice, that is itching in our blood.