Hongyu Wang: Centrist judge our last-ditch hope to prevent full-scale uprising

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There weren’t many hopeful signs in 2016, all over the world. And in our homeland none seemed ever hopeful and a dignified life seemed had all but gone ever since the outgoing Leung Chun-ying came into power with the blessing of 689 election committee members.

But wait, we still have one glimmer of hope, just emerged on the surface, out of nowhere. A 70-year-old retired judge with a centrist pledge rarely seen in the heavily polarised politics of today vowed to bring us back on track. In an era of either anti- or pro- establishment and either yellow or blue it is our blessing that Woo Kwok-hing, former vice president of the Court of Appeal, has thrown himself fully into the 2017 chief executive selection with a sober understanding on what would prevent a total break-down and a full-scale uprising.

In a place where either kowtowing unconditionally to Beijing regardless of the cost of who we are or unwaveringly and indiscriminately opposing whatever the government does even with relentless street violence, centrism is the only plausible way out of Hong Kong’s dilemma and path to normality. The 2017 chief executive race, even if only involves 1,200 election committee members (1,194 returned), is a timely rain in this fatalistic era of great struggle.

Putting political reform at the forefront of his political platform, Mr Woo’s vision of a nomination committee is of the very same size as today’s election committee, only that members are to be elected popularly by all registered voters. It does not contravene 31 August 2014 National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision, nor does it deny universal suffrage and a genuine choice for the head of government. In the very essence it embodies what is decreed in the Basic Law about a broadly representative committee and the goal of eventually attaining universal suffrage. Whether we will need Mr Woo’s 15 years to roll it out gradually is debatable but this centrist ideal should better be in place, and fast, before it is too late. Once a democratic mechanism for the chief executive election is in place, abolishing Functional Constituencies in the Legislative Council will certainly be a natural follow-up.

Centrism is also fully evident in Mr Woo’s land and housing policies. Developing brownfield land and accelerating the redevelopment of urban slums are not new ideas but have never been on a scale like what Mr Woo has pledged to do. Public housing has been around since as early as the 1950s but making home ownership scheme, subsidised private ownership blocks, a policy focus is indeed unprecedented. Reserving land for building homes solely for first-time buyers and solely for occupation purpose whilst transforming “small houses” into “small blocks” and building youth hostels are virtually unheard of.

Although Mr Woo’s social policies are conservative-oriented and is nowhere near the badly needed democratic socialist overhaul, it does blend opinions from the left to the right. Mr Woo proposed no new additions to the current mean and restricted social welfare schemes but did say that eligibility requirements need be fixed on paper. Whilst Mr Woo’s retrogressive measures of legislating standard working hours for certain jobs at 48 or 50 hours a week and reducing proposed overtime pay from 1.5 to 1.2 times that of standard salary is heartbreaking, he did suggest to link minimum wage level to inflation and abolish mandatory provident fund offset for severance fees, applicable only to new hires, though both timelines are extended long into the future. Similarly, a universal HK$ 2,500 monthly retirement plan is in no way alleviating but Mr Woo did offer this amount free of means test, should he have the blessing of sensible and reasonable election committee members to enter the Government House.

On economic policies front Mr Woo’s plan is also a mix of backing the Belt and Road grandeur and supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs through developing crowdfunding platforms, fintechs, innovative industries and big data businesses.

Watching his interviews and talks, if ever in today’s political climate there are enough people still having the patience to do so, you cannot help but love his charisma and innocence. A soft-spoken Victorian style gentleman, the Britain-educated Mr Woo, who had just renounced British citizenship in order to qualify as a chief executive candidate, demonstrated the true colour of a constructive Hong Kong localist with a no-nonsense disregard of the popular localism sentiment of independence, self-determination and constitutional referendum.

A personal touch of his desire to uphold justice, press freedom and all the fundamental human rights that are all what we are, albeit only taking a few lines in Mr Woo’s 47-page political platform, can be sensed inside-out which cannot fault but make any pragmatic person think and reflect, rather than propelling us to the streets.

Mr Woo and his constructive centrism deserve a try. Maybe we should really try, try this one last attempt, solemnly, sincerely and truly, to preserve, protect and defend all that we love so very dearly. Mr Woo is everything that other contenders, declared and hidden, are not.

I vow to thee Woo Kwok-hing. Thou shalt carry, for thy campaign wilt bestow us a chance back on track to peace and equality.

By Hongyu Wang


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