Absent Friends

How the pan democratic camp in general, and the Democratic Party in particular, miss the strategic thinking power of Szeto Wah.

The present bunch struggle to be worthy of his legacy.

Surveying the present political scene, "Uncle Wah" would have seen clearly several important factors in play.

First, a number of powerful tycoons have never accepted in their hearts the surprise outcome of the Chief Executive election. Henry was their man, they had courted him for years, the result was sewn up. But to their evident distress and discomfort, Tang fell at the last hurdle and suddenly there out of the blue came the outsider C Y Leung.

Some simply recoiled and tried to think through how to live with the new situation. But others have joined together in a concerted and well-resourced attempt to undermine the new CE, to bring him down and if possible hound him from office. Who would replace him? Too difficult to say, obviously not Henry, just someone equally malleable, leave the detail to another day.

Szeto would have asked himself why this small circle, so inimical to the overall interests of the pan democrats, were so determined to attack CY, and how the situation could be turned to advantage.

Secondly, Szeto would have seen the unauthorized building works saga for the distraction that it clearly is. A handful of minor improvements to his house – some introduced by the previous owner anyway – typical of those in many Hong Kong households, what precisely is the big deal? Even added together, how could they possibly be equated with the enormous underground palace of his rival for the top job?

Yet instead of focusing on the democrats’ welfare agenda – more subsidized housing, better care for the elderly, improved education opportunities – members of the present leadership have queued up in front of the TV cameras and microphones to shout scandal as if this were the biggest political event since the arrest of the Gang of Four.

Two senior members of the camp took part in a radio discussion last week. They repeatedly called the Chief Executive a liar, quoting his 14 page explanation of the unauthorized works as proof. But when I challenged them to specify which facts outlined in the paper constituted a lie, one of them could not think of a single example. The other could only quote the discrepancy in the size of the blocked off area – 320 square feet as measured by Buildings Department officials after breaking through the wall, 200 square feet as estimated by the CE while it was still inaccessible. So a poor guess is the same as a lie? For Heavens’ sake, how about a sense of proportion.

The sight of screeching harridans on the nightly news calling for Leung’s resignation or impeachment does nothing to improve the democrats image either.

Thirdly, Szeto would have known from his study of Leung’s election manifesto that in many of the social and welfare areas, his agenda was not a million miles away from theirs. He would have asked himself how the democrats could secure more of the improvements they wanted by working with the CE instead of against him.

Finally, Szeto would have realized that come rain or shine, Leung would be CE for the full five year term – and just possibly another one after it. There is no way he will quit nor will Beijing unload him, the fantasies of certain property developers notwithstanding. So Leung will be the top dog while a whole string of important political reform issues need to be addressed.

Might there be a way to turn cooperation on achieving Leung’s domestic agenda into a wider deal on genuine democratization? Szeto would at least have asked himself the question. Alas his successors do not seem able to think beyond tomorrow’s front page headline. If only they had inherited some of his wisdom.

The coming 2 January will be the second anniversary of Uncle Wah’s passing. As we gather with friends and family to welcome in the New Year, let all lovers of freedom and progress imagine what might have been and raise a toast to "Absent Friends".