Democrats' muddled manifesto
by Philip Bowring
SCMP September 6, 2004
It is right that the Legislative Council election should be mainly
about democracy, liberty, accountability, autonomy and the Basic
Law. Without that emphasis, there can be no hope that Hong Kong people
will wrest power from the cabal of nepotistic business and bureaucratic
interests now in charge - with help from mainland apparatchiks and
However, the democratic camp might have done a better job of focusing
on economic issues as well. Democracy is a means to an end.
It is no surprise that the Liberal Party scarcely has a platform beyond
the status quo, which has suited it very nicely, providing its business
interests with an "executive-led" shield against the sort
of competition that would pressure the profits of the oligopolies.
It is no surprise that the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong
Kong, while mouthing communist cant about representing the working
class, in practice goes along with the above, particularly when the
instant-billionaire beneficiaries are connected to party luminaries.
The problem with the Democratic Party manifesto is that good ideas
in the 10-page section on economy-related matters are interleaved with
meaningless platitudes and some idiocies. Party manifestos necessarily
seek the broadcast common denominators, and to offend the smallest
number of people. However, the Democrats should have had a better-focused
economic agenda and backed it up with more-specific examples of why
the present government policies are economically inefficient, as well
as damaging to the majority.
For example, the demand for a competition policy is correct. But why
not be specific about some of the current beneficiaries of its absence
- ParknShop and Wellcome, for a start? The anti-competitive policies
of property developers which also own management companies, telecom
suppliers, shopping centres, and the like, are well known. Spell them
out. Do not just say the issue must be studied. The manifesto does
mention the need for an open-skies aviation policy, and the container
port monopoly, but not the anti-competitive behaviour most directly
damaging to consumers.
The manifesto wants to "improve corporate governance". Fine,
but its proposals are so mild that they could have been drafted by
the incumbent monopolist, Hong Kong Exchange. Why not spell out examples
of recent rip-offs, and show how to prevent these recurring?
Why do democrats not demand that the full force of ICAC powers confront
un-transparent deals such as Cyberport, or find out why well-pensioned
civil servants collect private-sector sinecures for which they have
scant obvious qualification?
The party's opposition to the proposed goods and services tax is bold.
But it is lost in a mass of verbiage. It also sounds potentially irresponsible
when put together with its opposition to any tax increases and desire
to put the attainment of a balanced budget back to the 2009-10 financial
On land and housing, the manifesto is a muddle, trying to appeal both
to those who want "stabilisation" - that is, higher prices
engineered by land sales manipulation - and those who want a genuinely
free market. Thus, it concludes by demanding stable supply, while saying "meanwhile,
it is advisable to keep the application-list system".
Democrats could have made more impact if they had stopped trying to
be all things to all people and zeroed in with hard-hitting policies
on: monopolies and competition; the goods and services tax, a regressive
tax which would exacerbate Hong Kong's already appalling income mal-distribution;
land supply and planning policy as keys to housing, environment and
public transport; and power company emissions rules, which make public
health secondary to monopoly profits and the motor trade.
That manifesto would win any fair election. But we do not have one.
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