Online Extra: "We're Too Close to the Government"

Ma Lik, a leader of Hong Kong's biggest pro-Beijing and pro-Tung party, says the group now has much rethinking to do

Other than Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa himself, perhaps the biggest loser from the July 1 movement is likely to be the territory's largest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong. The party, known as the DAB, has been a staunch supporter of Tung's government. The DAB's leader, Tsang Yok Sing, is a member of Tung's Cabinet, the Executive Council (Exco), and was an outspoken advocate of the proposed anti-sedition bills that so angered Hong Kong people. Following the shock resignation from Exco of Liberal Party chief James Tien on July 6, Tsang is the only legislator still in Tung's Cabinet.

After the protest, BusinessWeek Hong Kong Correspondent Bruce Einhorn talked to the DAB's despondent Ma Lik, the party's secretary-general. Ma, who is also a Hong Kong representative to the National People's Congress in Beijing, discussed how the DAB -- which must compete against Martin Lee's Democrats this fall in local elections -- will cope with being identified with a government denounced by a half-million people. Following are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: How important are the events of the past week?


It's the most important change since 1997 [when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule]. The people have expressed their will.

Q: What explains the protests?


People are just unhappy with the government. That's why they took to the street. The sentiment is bad. That's why even an Exco member would not support the chief executive.

Q: What have you learned from the July 1 demonstration?


I think that the chief executive should learn a lesson from the whole process up till now, the Article 23 legislation process. It's a valuable lesson for him and the government. They communicated with the people so poorly. They sold the bill so poorly. Why is it that only [Security Secretary] Regina Ip and sometimes [Justice Secretary] Elsie Leung came out to face the public? Why not the chief executive? Why not the whole government?

Q: What changes do you see taking place now?


In the July 1 march, people expressed three demands, three hopes: [First,] to postpone the Article 23 second reading. Now the government has done the right thing [by postponing the vote]. The present danger, the crisis, is solved for the time being.

Q: The second?


They're unsatisfied with the government, the past six years of the Tung Administration. It's time for Tung to consider reshuffling the whole Cabinet and making some major changes. I think he should do that.

Q: And the third?


People want to see the government do something to revive the economy. The economy has become worse and worse in the past six years. If [Tung's government] can change the present policy, not to balance the budget and fight the deficit but to do more to revive the economy, that will make people happier.

Q: Should Tung go?


I think that Beijing still supports him. If he stepped down, it would make the situation worse in Beijing's eyes. I think that even the Democrats want him to stay on.

Q: Tung doesn't have to face the voters, but your party's candidates do. How will you manage in the elections this fall?


It will put us in difficulty. The situation is more difficult for us after the march. Before July 1, since this is a district-level election, the behavior of people [would be] "pay-back behavior": The more you have done for your constituency, then the voters will vote for you. After July 1, the whole community is politicized. So they have to think: If they're not satisfied with the government, then they're not satisfied with the political party that supports the government. That will make it difficult for us.

Q: So what can you do?


We can only try harder. That's the only way. We're...reviewing the whole situation. We also have to address people's concern. We're too close to the government. We're too pro-government -- that makes us out of touch with the people. That's what I can see.

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