The idea of a pardon for everyone connected with the Occupy movement – both demonstrators and police – did not survive very long. Like a shooting star, the suggestion flashed at light speed across Hong Kong’s political firmament and disappeared into the ether. The originator – Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi Wai – had been briefly supported by his Civic party counterpart Alvin Yeung Ngok Kiu, but within less than 24 hours both had recanted and apologised to the public and members of their own party. They accepted the proposal had not been thought through thoroughly enough before it was aired.
There was therefore barely time for others to criticise (where to draw the line, cases still before the courts, would only paper over cracks, selective pardon would widen rift etc) before the target was no longer there to be shot at. The kindest comment was that Wu had "good intentions", which as we all know is how the road to hell is paved.
But stepping back for a moment and looking at the idea in context, what it did capture was a very strong desire in the community for reconciliation. Indeed, Wu’s call was not the first such to be aired. Immediately after the conviction of seven police officers for assaulting an unarmed and handcuffed prisoner, there were calls from self-described patriotic forces for them all to be excused in the interests of "harmony". Although that particular call was rightly dismissed, we should not allow the underlying desire for unity to be neglected.
Not should we listen to the siren voices pushing the idea that we must choose between greater democracy and an orderly society. We are Hong Kong people and we can and should arrange to have both.
By chance last week, I attended the wedding banquet of a police chief inspector (son of a family friend) and his bride who was from the media world. I have no doubt that many of those present were strong supporters of political reform. But we all admired the groom and his police colleagues in their dress uniform. The latter formed an archway of ceremonial swords above the aisle as the happy couple stepped away from the altar, and we all cooed in admiration when the film of the event was played back that evening.
Is that so surprising? After all, these are our policemen, our friends, the sons and daughters of people we know and love. They have our respect for the job they do keeping our community safe, but more than that they have our affection. So at the human, personal, level, we are already way past reconciliation, we have remembered and resumed the warm and intimate embrace we all shared before.
How did our community lose this feeling? What mis-steps on both sides at the political level caused us to suddenly start seeing each other as enemies? No doubt part of the responsibility must be borne by those in the Occupy movement who stirred up our young people to the extent that they developed unrealistic aspirations. All young people have these instincts – goodness, isn’t that part of what youth is for? Surely part of the job of their elders is to temper the enthusiasm of those who look up to them and steer them towards more practical objectives.
And part must be borne by the outgoing administration. The sincerity of the consultation exercise on political reform was questionable from the outset, with the sudden inclusion in a footnote of the idea that each candidate for chief executive who secured the required number of nominations would not automatically be included on the ballot paper given to voters. Instead the aspirant candidate would be subject to further vetting by the nominating committee from which he would require majority support.
If that got the exercise off to a rocky start, what came later was worse. Though the consultation paper dealt with arrangements both for the legislative council and the chief executive elections, the final report on the outcome of the process omitted all reference to the many suggestions for reform of the legislative council. Indeed those two words do not appear in it.
Even mild suggestions for reform of the election/nominating committee to make it more representative of the people of Hong Kong – which it is required by the Basic Law to be – were simply ignored. All that was left on the table was an extremely conservative reform proposal on a "take it or leave it" basis. Small wonder our young people felt so frustrated.
All we have seen since the 2016 Legco election is a guerrilla war whereby the government has sought to disqualify as many as possible of the duly elected pan democratic camp on the most shamelessly spurious grounds. This is supposed to be part of the healing process?
Incoming chief executive elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet Ngor needs to reflect on these issues. At the personal, individual level, we have got over Occupy. At the institutional level, we seem to be still fighting the old war.
Wu’s original suggestion may not have been very practical, but at least he was trying to be a Jedi knight.
The administration by contrast is giving a very good impression of trying to be Darth Vader.