Alan Leong's Choice

(Ming Pao)  Alan Leong's Choice.  By Leung Wan-tao 梁文道 (Dean of Ngau Peng College).  February 1, 2007.

[in transnlation]

Barring any unforeseen circumstance, Donald Tsang will officially announce his intention to enter the Chief Executive election today.  In this election battle in which the outcome is already determined, Donald Tsang has numerous advantages, but there is one that is often ignored by people -- he does not have the burden of explaining why he is running.  Although he will surely deliver some grand statement such as "Hong Kong blood flows in me" and "my country is in my bosom," everybody will treat this as a required formality and not take it seriously.  After all, who is going to seriously think about why a political figure wants to run for election?

But the situation of Alan Leong is different.  Since he is the candidate put forward by the pan-democratic camp, he carries an original sin -- he needs to face some questions and he needs to deal with certain consequences.

For more than twenty years, the choice between the radical and moderate approaches has determined the development of democracy in Hong Kong.  Should you join the system?  Or should you assault the system from the outside?  Should you join the game in order to change the rules of the game from the inside?  Or should you refuse to join the game and wait until the system reaches it own endgame?  These are two difficult choices for which there are no obvious verdicts.  Those who advocate the moderate approach are afraid that if they do not join the game early, they will be left farther and farther behind.  They will never be able to change the situation, and therefore they would rather make a "tactical adjustment" to yield temporarily.  Those who advocate the radical approach do not believe that the search for democracy and justice can be based purely on tactics without principles.  If the means is wrong, then the position is lost.  Therefore, they will not participate in any setup within the system.  They will stay outside to system to "accumulate the power of the people seeking democracy" (this was the main reason why the pan-democratic legislative councillors rejected Donald Tsang's political reform proposal).

More than twenty years later, Hong Kong has still not seen universal suffrage.  The moderates use this to accuse the radicals for lacking brains and failing to join the game earlier on in order to accumulate power; the radicals counterattack the moderates for capitulating because the government would have lost its legitimacy to rule a long time ago otherwise.  Interestingly, in this debate, the "impractical" radicals usually hold the moral high ground and they speak forthrightly, thus forcing the moderates to respond and explain the purpose of their actions.

Such is the baggage that Alan Leong carries.  He must explain to commentators such as Wong Onyin why he is entering the Chief Executive election and he must prove to fellow democrats such as Raymond Wong, Leung Kwok-hung and others that he is doing the right thing.  He has to deal with the doubts among his own people.  Everybody should be able to recall that Alan Leong emphasized to the pan-democratic radicals that he wanted to use the Chief Executive election to "highlight the absurdity of the existing system."  In other words, at a time when everybody already knows that the existing system is absurd, Alan Leong wanted to use action to expose its absurdity even further.  If this is his purpose for entering the election, then we should ask next just what he needs to do in order to expose the absurdity of this system.  The answer is actually very simple.  He must defeat Donald Tsang in the public opinion polls or a universal referendum while losing in the Election Committee's vote.  A person who was the choice of several million people lost in a small circle election of 800 people.  Isn't that absurd?

What does Alan Leong have to do in order to lose the election but win in public opinion?  Based upon the current situation, Alan Leong seems to want to have a publicity war with Donald Tsang over policy platforms.  On one hand, he is criticizing government missteps while offering his own proposals.  On the other hand, he keeps making local appearances and issuing challenges to debate in public forums.  This is a very normal election process and this corresponds to how the Alan Leong camp wants to win the neutral electors: "Let us have a competitive election."  Yes, this is the most proper election process and it wins the support of many neutral persons without clear political positions.  But is this enough to defeat Donald Tsang?

That would be very difficult.  Donald Tsang has been a government official for more than 30 years, and he is familiar with the various policies and the operations of the government departments; he has an enormous amount of administrative resources and he can use the ideas and thinking of his people to come up with a viable policy platform with fewer flaws.  This is precisely where Alan Leong is weak.  Never mind anything else, the recent issue of air traffic congestion brought up by the Donald Tsang camp was something that Alan Leong has probably never even thought about, much less than knowing how to react.  Although Alan Leong had certain unique ideas about wanting the Planning Department to become an independent entity outside of the government, he is basically unable to confront Donald Tsang head-on on important areas such as economic policies, etc.  If he keeps this up, he will not only fail to win the public opinion for the purpose of showing the unfairness of the system but he will allow Donald Tsang to win in both the big and small circles.  He will allow his opponent and the whole system to gain acceptability because the Chief Executive chosen by the Election Committee does not look that bad.

Therefore, Alan Leong should play the political card and concentrate on holding up the flag of universal suffrage and consolidating the base of the democratic supporters.  In other words, he should not waste his efforts on the "concrete policy" route on which his opponent can compete comfortably; instead he needs to return to the original point of the pan-democrats to define this election as "democracy versus oligarchy" and "progressive versus conservative"; to turn the opponent as the chaperone for special interest groups while he is the vanguard in the fight for civil rights.  This is the only way to win the public opinion battle.

Yet, ever since Donald Tsang pointedly tossed out the idea of "concrete policies," the Alan Leong camp seemed to have fallen into a trap of reacting in kind.  They did not continue with the grand vision of double universal suffrage after this election, but they chose to attempt to show that they also have "concrete policies."  The result was that we are not seeing how a democratic leader is challenging the existing system.  Instead, there are two candidates in a serious election.  So how can this outcome please the radical democrats?  Your original purpose was to show that this election was never a truly competitive election, so why did you turn this into a seemingly real election in which you let your opponent win in glorious fashion?

But something bad in the eyes of the radical democrats may be something good in the eyes of the moderates.  Through this normal election process, they can learn the operations and logic of the whole government apparatus and gradually develop a 360-degree policy vista.  They will come into contact with sectors and organizations that they have not come into contact before, they can uncover resource networks that they have not used before, they can develop better networks and even a base and they can strenghten the training process for their whole team.  That is to say, this election will increase the power of the pan-democratic camp, expand its capital, give it more influence and make it better prepared to take over the government (assuming such a day comes).

So Alan Leong is in a dilemma.  If he wants to address the doubts of the radicals by saying that he wants to expose the absurdity of the existing system, then he needs to have a clean victory over Donald Tsang in the public opinion arena.  If he is to defeat his opponent in terms of a clean image, he should not be tussling with Donald Tsang over concrete policy issues and he should be playing the democracy card instead.  But the price of that is to solidify the impression that the democrats only know how to shout slogans to oppose and it will scare away the middle-of-the-road wait-and-see camp as well as the interests groups from various social sectors.  If he seriously attempts to compete against Donald Tsang on concrete policies, he will most likely indirectly help Donald Tsang gain some undeserved acceptability and go against the original intention to "highlight the unfairness of the system."  However, the entire democratic camp can gain some more political capital and experience, and attempt to modify the bias of the middle-of-the-road camp against them.  So is the purpose to attack the existing system, or to work within it for the sake of the future?  It seems that the Alan Leong camp has chosen the latter.

(Apple Daily)  February 1, 2007.

[interview of 501 persons age 18 or over on January 30-31, 2007; no survey methodology given]

Q1. If you have the right to vote, who would you chose as the next Chief Executive?
53%: Donald Tsang
32%: Alan Leong
15%: Don't know/no opinion

Q2. Does Alan Leong's candidacy affect the development of democracy in Hong Kong?
36%: No help because this is still a small circle election
33%: It will speed up the process of democratization
10%: It will angered the Beijing leaders so that there is no hope for universal suffrage
21%: Don't know/no opinion