Follow my leader?
SCMP October 9, 2006
The chief executive is a tireless maker of speeches, seldom missing
a chance to be heard and seen. But what do his words mean? I have
been reading his September 29 address at Chinese University. It seems
to be an attempt to set out his political philosophy and, in the
process, reveals a lot about his self-image. He expressed similar
thoughts on the Letter to Hong Kong programme on RTHK a month earlier.
Donald Tsang Yam-kuen describes himself as a politician. As chief
executive, he cannot be anything else. But politics has in a sense
upon him. His own political career was entirely within the confines
of the politics of the bureaucracy. He is a political figure in the
sense of colonial administrators like former chief secretary Sir
Philip Haddon-Cave, rather than of those - like former governor
or even Chinese party leaders - whose political experience came in
a wider arena.
The public, he claimed, identifies with "individualism and heroism" in
the political arena - while his "pragmatic" politics is "not
so marketable". Showing all the condescension of the elite bureaucrat
towards ordinary people, he declared: "Pragmatic politics may
not appeal to the general public because it entails a long process
of resolving issues in a gradual manner."
In other words, the public can stop demanding quick action on health
or public transport, and wait for their betters to do what is best
in their own good time.
He contrasted his pragmatism with the supposed ideological motivations
of politicians who must appeal to the public. He rolled out a few big
names to illustrate his politics of heroism - Churchill, Lincoln, Napoleon.
He ignored the fact, though, that democratic politicians in the west
and Asia are mostly rather ordinary figures, who get elected not by
pursuing ideology but by purporting to offer superior but not very
novel administrations. In short, this is guff to justify Mr Tsang's
own lack of democratic credentials, or experience outside the bureaucracy.
Mr Tsang sees himself as the great administrator toiling away for
the good of us all in the "monotonous" work of leadership. "A
leader earns respect for his administrative skills," he said. "So
being the chief executive is a rather unglamorous and down-to-Earth
job when you really look at it closely." Nothing to do with power.
Just selfless drudgery.
Leadership, he went on, does not just consist of formulating correct
policies, but of the community forming a "consensus" on them.
Consensus, he implied, is a question of getting the community to go
along with whatever has been decided.
The pragmatic politician must put words into action - a Tsang sentiment
with which few would disagree. But what happens when political pragmatism
runs up against either basic principles or good administration? Judging
by Mr Tsang's own performance, what suits his political convenience
doesn't make for good governance.
His promises to address the critical
pollution issue have not been matched by deeds that would upset commercial
interests with political clout. They would also upset many of Mr
Tsang's own class, who have prospered by doing favours for business.
of strong action to improve public health, the government compromises
with vested interests or moves at the bureaucrat's preordained snail's
Pragmatism - or self-interest - also sometimes requires that well-placed
individuals, whether judges or media owners, are exempted from the
normal standards of discipline and law applied to the rest of the population.
Pragmatism means being a good Catholic - until there is a choice between
following the Pope and displeasing Beijing.
Yes, Sir Donald is pragmatic. He is a good player of bureaucratic,
and now small-circle Hong Kong, politics. He is a first-class self-promoter.
But he is still a follower, not a leader.
TOP OF THE PAGE