Monday 13 April 2015

Hong Kong's pan-democratic lawmakers can learn from Lee Kuan Yew

By Tony Kwok, Published The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2015

SURPRISINGLY, our pan-democratic legislators in Hong Kong have been largely silent about the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In the past, they often looked down on the Singapore political system, criticising its "fake elections", "lack of press freedom", "one-party rule" and "dictatorship". I believe they are wise not to comment on this occasion, as they would have been given a big slap on the face by the people of Singapore.

Whether the system of government is good should best be judged by the people of a country, not by outsiders or scholars. The fact that the people of Singapore flocked to queue for hours, in unbearable heat or intolerably heavy rain, just to pay their last respects to Mr Lee demonstrated public endorsement of the founder of the Republic and the political system he created.

I believe there are plenty of lessons Hong Kong's pan-democratic legislators can learn from Mr Lee.

Firstly, Mr Lee received his university education in the Western world, similar to many of our pro-democracy legislators. Certainly, Mr Lee outshone all of them in terms of academic achievement. He knew the Western system well, including its faults. So while Mr Lee chose to follow the common law system in Singapore, he was not keen to take the system on in its entirety. For example, the country adopted a system of fused professions, making no distinction between barristers and solicitors, thus reducing unnecessary legal costs. Mr Lee also did away with the funny wigs worn in court.

He must have noticed at the time of his study that British police forces had a serious corruption problem. Under him, Singapore's Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau became a model for the rest of the world to follow. Hong Kong was able to learn from it the proper way to fight corruption. Mr Lee also limited a person's "right of silence", making the interview of suspects by law enforcement officers much more effective.

No doubt our pro-democracy legislators would have taken the entire Western system, values and culture, on board, believing that the Western system offers the only genuine kind of democracy. Should they not learn to distinguish what is good or bad for our unique environment, instead of blindly following others?

Secondly, in his 2013 book, One Man's View Of The World, Mr Lee had high praise for China's achievements and the ability of the Chinese leaders. He predicted that China would continue to prosper and become one of the two most powerful nations in the world. Indeed, in the past, he pushed for policy in Singapore to take advantage of China's economic prosperity. He wanted the Chinese language to be widely taught in Singapore schools. He was one of the first leaders to recognise China's potential and pushed for partnerships with it, including setting up an industrial park in Suzhou.

He greatly admired Hong Kong's competitive advantage of being the gateway to the mainland. Yet our pan-democratic legislators oppose every single move by the SAR government to build economic links with China.

Third, when he was conferred an honorary doctorate by Chinese University in 2000, he said in his speech that the only way Hong Kong should and could develop its political and electoral system was to follow the Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law. These were truly the words of a wise man 15 years ago. Had the Hong Kong pan-democratic camp taken his advice, there would not have been such a deadlock and Occupy Central would not have happened.

If Mr Lee were the chairman of the Democratic Party or Civic Party today, how would he have acted?

I am sure he would persuade his party to accept the currently proposed electoral reform package. He would have no problems with, say, a rule of getting the minimum 5 to 10 per cent vote required before seeking the endorsement of the nominating committee.

He would study the make-up of the nominating committee and come to the conclusion that many of the very decent representatives there need not follow the orders of Beijing. He would then use his persuasive powers and charisma to lobby their support. If he could demonstrate his genuine desire to serve the best interests of Hong Kong, he should have no problems securing the support of the majority of these groups.

At the same time, he would call for public support. If he is prepared to openly pledge his loyalty to Beijing, it is not inconceivable that Beijing would give him its blessing, even if he comes from the pro-democracy camp. In any event, if he had overwhelming public support, it would be difficult for the 1,200 decent members of the nominating committee to arbitrarily vote him out.

Those close to Mr Lee said he was not one for idealism. He was truly practical and not stubborn; he would change his mind if he was convinced it was in Singapore's best interests. I hope the pan-democratic camp can learn from his political wisdom.

It is absurd that the pan-democrats would vote down the reform proposal simply because it was not the most ideal one on offer; and, as a result, prefer the old system of letting the selection committee, instead of the people, elect the next Chief Executive.

The sad thing is that the Hong Kong pan-democratic camp does not have anyone with the brains or foresight anywhere close to that of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

The writer is former deputy commissioner of the Independent Commission against Corruption.

This article was first published in the South China Morning Post.

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