Tuesday, 27 March 2007

The Greatest Sorrow

I had wished to write something about the first "contested" selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. I had wished to follow through the "miraculous election campaigns" of both Sir Donald and Alan Leong, the outcome of which was anything but unknown. I had wished to witness the first live debates of both contestants on television.

In the end, however, I didn't.

I didn't even bother to watch Sir Donald's emotional speech of gratitude to his loyal subjects. When I was told that he was on the brink of tears upon the announcement of his successful bid, I could only respond with a sneer of contempt and indifference.

I only managed to quickly read through the policy platforms of both candidates. I only managed to keep up my spirits until Sir Donald promulgated his candidacy with the much-mocked tagline, "I will get the job done."

To native English tongues, there was nothing seriously wrong or improper with the tagline, although some old-school English language professors might find it a bit too informal and colloquial. And yet this reflects how much Sir Donald understands his people. Hong Kong people are straightforward and simple-minded to the extent that they don't really care how the rhetoric is phrased, as long as the meaning is explicit and understood within a split second.

The Chinese version, obviously a tasteless diehard translation of the English, was much worse but hardly surprising. In Chinese, "getting the job done" carries a negative connotation that this is nothing but a job and the bearer of the statement has no choice but to get this done following a shrug of shoulders. Full-stop. Within days there were hundreds of mocking versions of the tagline floating around on internet forums and people's lips, which interestingly rhymed with the original. Not surprisingly, Sir Donald's election office wasted no time to take this widespread mockery with complacence and interpreted it as a successful tactic to raise public awareness of Sir Donald's bid, as if it were an intended outcome of the half-baked Chinese translation.

Don't ask me where my frustration and indifference stems from. This is a question that I can't even answer to my own satisfaction. All I can think of is that neither candidate could give me hope and confidence in him and his governance by reading their policy platforms. Well, I know this is again a very uncommon Hong Kong thing to do, but it is just impossible for a bookworm like me to resist the temptation of reading.

Pardon me for being a bit blunt here, but I found while both candidates had spent so much time making high-sounding promises and commitment, they failed to convince me how they would be able to deliver their promises, at least on paper. Indeed, some others may think it is unrealistic to present an action plan at such an early stage, but I still can't understand why the electorate can possibly make an informed judgment without knowing whether the candidates' promises are realistic and sensible at all? More importantly, with the absence of a meaningful action plan, however brief and simple it may be, how can the voters tell whether the candidates are capable of doing what they have proudly proclaimed?

Well, I don't need to be told how the Chief Executive election works, as if it were an election at all. This also explains why both candidates, especially Sir Donald, who received so much blessing from Beijing and the rich-and-powerful electorate, were so extraordinarily obsessed with their appearances and exchanges on the public front. While they knew better than anybody that winning the hearts and minds of the people would have no impact on the outcome, they spared no effort fighting on this battlefield to secure public support and, ultimately, the legitimacy of their powers and governance once elected.

Why bother? The answer is simple: this is where the biggest paradox of Hong Kong's political system sets in. On the one hand, for no well-explained and convincing reason, the people from whom the Chief Executive's legitimate powers are derived are adamantly denied a legitimate right of selecting their own representatives who are empowered to elect the Chief Executive. On the other hand, the 800-strong electorate who enjoy the luxury and privilege to cast the votes are widely recognised as rubber stamps of Beijing but not the source of the Chief Executive's legitimacy and powers to govern. While the candidates had no chance of getting round the paradox, they needed to work something out to build the momentum of recognition among the people. The easiest and most straightforward strategy was to raise the standard of democracy or to paint a rosy picture of common affluence in a distant future to solicit public support. Clearly this was a two-bladed sword that could either justify their rise to power or please the loyal subjects, who would have been otherwise left in despair of neglect and helplessness.

In my opinion, therefore, both candidates' struggle for legitimacy and justification on the public front was either a bitter mockery on the complacent electorate or a disguised flattery of the ridiculous election system.

Don't ask me which one of the above is true though. I don't have the model answer, and I don't want to know.

I must admit that I was surprised by the magnitude of my indifference. Sir Donald's inherent arrogance and clumsy pretence, Alan Leong's high-sounding rhetoric and targeted criticisms at his opponent were, however, just part of the blame. Not to mention the dull and boring coverage in the local media. Not to mention the shameless proclamation that the so-called live candidate debates have successfully transformed the political culture of Hong Kong. At the end of the day, I believe, it was the absence of hope and long-term commitment in everything around the election campaigns that quickly drained my enthusiasm away.

As the old Chinese saying goes, "There is no sorrow greater than the death of heart." This was the only thing that popped up my mind when I tried to jot down my feelings about the Chief Executive farce.

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