“We must focus on the economy” and “We must enhance communication.” These are the two slogans most likely to provoke pangs of nostalgia among Hongkongers who miss the bumbling, crisis-racked, deflationary, pestilential and rebellious time of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, from 1997 to 2005. The first was a plea to stop thinking about political reform. Today, the subject is being forced into our face round the clock by a campaign to produce overwhelming public support for the 2012 electoral package being pushed by the crop-haired one’s successor, Donald Tsang. Which bring us to the second slogan: an implicit assertion that if the people disagree with the administration, it is because they have not understood properly.
The Standard reports that the most widely respected opinion poll in town, and one from a pro-Beijing group, find public opposition to the package actually growing. This follows a barrage of hard-to-avoid poster and TV advertising and embarrassing, high-profile public appearances by top officials at weekends. (Ever on the alert for an irrelevant and pointless discursion at what could be a critical time if they play their cards right, the pro-democrats have switched into full obsessiveness mode over whether these stunts amount to political advertising (bad) rather than announcements in the public interest (good).)
It could be, of course, that the government’s communication strategy prevented an even bigger drop in approval ratings. More probably, though, it contributed to popular skepticism. The desperate tone of the effort invited derision; a straighter appeal for sympathy and help would have been more successful. And then there was the great irony: an administration seeking democratic endorsement for an election system designed to obviate democratic endorsement. People surely felt insulted, not simply by the condescension of T-shirt-clad officials dispensing stickers in malls, but by being exhorted to Act Now in some unspecified way, after 12 years of being told implicitly that their only role is to shut up and behave.
Question 12 of the HKU poll asked respondents who they felt would be to blame if the package fails to get through the Legislative Council tomorrow week. Among the majority who absolve the pro-democrats, the largest group (34% of the total sample) point the finger at the Central People’s Government rather than at Sir Bow-Tie (19%). For good reason: we are in this mess because we are in a one-party state whose leadership can’t relate to a population that talks back. So to a good third of the city, Donald’s hyperactive efforts to promote the package are just the latest and most tragic episode in his post-handover saga of unquestioning obeisance to Beijing and he simply doesn’t rate as an independent player. The funniest part is that many Communist loyalists in the Big Lychee still despise him as a running dog of the British.
The great debate with fragrant Civic Party boss Audrey Eu on Thursday evening offers him a last chance, barring a barely imaginable concession by Beijing, to finally honour poor old Tofu-for-Brains’s constant pledges to enhance communication. But it would take unprecedented honesty: an implicit admission that up to now he has been speaking bullshit, and now he will cut it out and level with us. Instead, we can expect a mind-numbing bore-fest as the two recite well-rehearsed arguments at each other over the precise meaningfulness of arcane tweaks to functional constituencies or the Election Committee, interspersed with vapid slogans about moving forward and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, while viewers at home pass out and accidentally sleep through Argentina vs South Korea. And the package will fail in Legco six days later while outside cops pepper-spray Post-80s Kids Against Unrighteous Authority, and we enter the next stage of even-lamer-than-before-duck government. For pitifulness, Tung was a hard act to beat, but Donald has rolled up his sleeves and is going to give it all he’s got.