All that glisters is not gold…

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If my twin brother in Thailand hadn’t texted me about the CE Election Debate yesterday, I wouldn’t have switched to RTHK live broadcast. Given the rampant cynicism and helplessness in the city after 2014, it may not be too meaningful to discuss whether these politicians will keep their promise or not. The cruel fact that I’m not eligible to vote just further adds to our daily frustrations.

However, I still watched the debate although we can’t cast the ballot at the moment. Here, the late British sociologist Basil Bernstein is quite right about the conditions for an effective democracy – 1. that people must feel that they have a stake in society in the sense that they are concerned to receive something and to give something at the same time; 2. that people must have confidence that political arrangements they create will realise this stake. Put it in another way, it is not only universal suffrage that defines a legitimate and healthy democracy. An effective democracy always rests with people’s perceptions about their participation and roles in society.

All nominated candidates in this election have been the best qualified thus far since 1997. From day one I like John Tsang’s impressive PR, but I also know that it is realism that matters in public policy, not one’s dexterity with managing Facebook. Carrie Lam’s arrogance is obviously not to my taste, but since I’m not an expert in public affairs, I just can’t judge who is more competent and knowledgeable. Let’s pause for a while and give these candidates the benefit of the doubt first.

The debate clearly shows that Carrie Lam is more well-versed than John Tsang on various issues. Her leadership style is controversial, but somehow she has a much better grasp of key policy issues. An example is her take on education policy. She is the only candidate who mentions the impact of population decline on the private higher education sector. I’m surprised by the fact that Woo, who served in Shue Yan as the Dean of its Business School, didn’t put this item in his election platform. Apart from repeating ‘the rule of law’ on his lips, he basically knew nothing about public policies, I dare say.

One may well argue that since Beijing has anointed Carrie Lam to take up this post it is meaningless to prognosticate the election results. But let’s set aside the external issue of loyalty to Beijing for a moment. What we should ask is – why can Carrie Lam still wield such an enormous influence in the establishment despite her notoriety in the press?

James Joyce’s diagnosis of political sentiment in colonial Ireland is still relevant to Hong Kong society today: ‘In realism you are down to facts on which the world is based: that sudden reality which smashes romanticism into a pulp. What makes most people’s lives unhappy is some disappointed romanticism, some unrealizable or misconceived ideal. In fact you may say that idealism is the ruin of man, and if we lived down to fact, as primitive man had to do, we would be better off. That is what we were made for. Nature is quite unromantic. It is we who put romance into her, which is a false attitude, an egotism, absurd like all egotisms.’ How true. It’s always important to think deeper.

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