Count your blessings
The people of Hong Kong should not rejoice at the resignation of two of the territory's most unpopular officials ("Two HK Cabinet secretaries resign", July 17, page 1). As in the sacking of Beijing's mayor and the health minister for poor handling of the SARS issue, I believe that the "resignations" of Anthony Leung (梁錦松) and Regina Ip (葉劉淑儀) were not voluntary. Both were probably "sacrificed" in Beijing's bid to restore the popularity and credibility of Beijing's favored and trusted man, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華).
The departures of both officials could not, and should not, pacify the 500,000 citizens who protested on July 1, and many thousands more who felt disenchanted with the administration which is clearly exercising leadership at the whims and fancies of the Chinese government. Simply removing Leung and Ip and thereafter replacing them with another two pro-Beijing officials is just another step backward.
For example, the English soccer club Leeds United was facing problems of all sorts last season. In most stages, they were hovering in and out of the relegation zone. Their chairman was becoming unpopular with fans and he subsequently resigned. In came a new chairman and despite not being able to turn results around immediately, the club's performance on the field eventually improved and they succeeded in avoiding relegation.
Similarly, when people have lost faith and trust in any government, the head of that government has to take responsibility and step down. However, it is highly possible that the removal of Tung now would result in more protests, chaos and instability. What then could be done?
In my view, Tung should announce that he will step down on June 30 next year, by which time he would have served two years of his current five-year term. In the meantime, the Executive Council has to enact a law that allows for direct election of the chief executive by the people and not merely appointed by Beijing. A direct election of the nation's leaders is the most basic and fundamental element of any democracy. Of course, it would be naive to expect Beijing to adopt a total hands-off approach in the new administration. But at the very least, the newly elected chief executive would fulfil his moral obligation to speak up for his citizens, without fear or favor with the Chinese government.
I dread to imagine the possibility of a pro-unification candidate winning Taiwan's next presidential election. Taiwan would then no longer have a president but a chief executive, who is not answerable to Tai-wanese but to the Chinese. I would not dispel the possibility of unification for Taiwan and China someday, perhaps many decades later.
Nonetheless, for the foreseeable future, I would say that a democratic Taiwan would probably ensure a more fulfilling, enriching and satisfying standard of living for Taiwanese.
To the people of Hong Kong, Tung's performance for the past six years has not been satisfactory. However, had Tung been elected directly by the people, the impact of their dissatisfaction and grievances would have been lesser and lighter. After all, a non-performing leader who is not elected by his or her own people would have neither the mandate nor the confidence from the citizens. And without the mandate or confidence, how then could the leader continue to lead?