Unrest's tacit truce not trustworthy

Editorial | Mary Ma 10 Dec 2019

The police force's estimate of Sunday's march turnout was, as usual, roughly just a quarter of that given by Civil Human Rights Front, but does that mean there is no room for the two sides to give no political quarter?

For no matter whether the turnout was, by the force's estimate,183,000 or, by the front's, 800,000, one thing was quite apparent: the streets were filled by an ocean of humanity flowing in a typically orderly Hong Kong fashion from Victoria Park to Central.

Despite a few incidents of vandalism affecting some shops and banks and fires at the entrances to the High Court and Court of Final Appeal, the march was largely peaceful.

What must have been most apparent to one and all is that it was the first weekend in recent months that passed with no trading of tear gas, rubber bullets and Molotov cocktails between the force and the more militant protesters.

Since the public vented its anger at the Carrie Lam administration and police in the district council elections two weeks ago, it is quite obvious there has been a slight general improvement in the political mood. There have still been some police-public confrontations, but they are, by and large, isolated.

An unspoken truce has largely been in the air since the elections. In retrospect, it is most fortunate that the elections were allowed to proceed as planned; otherwise, the SAR could still be - as once feared by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung - anarchic.

But how long can this fragile truce last?

That is what worries the more responsible among us.

Upset by a historic district council upset, some pro-establishment party members have been mulling over the possibility of seeking some sort of a review with a view to overturning the electoral results. Any serious attempt at such an ill-considered move in the face of an orderly election is doomed to ignite the air of political volatility in this unspoken truce.

Our immediate efforts as a civic community should instead be focused on making this truce permanent so that the city can once again forge its next economic miracle, a recovery from our present doldrums no less, in a free and democratic environment. And that demands both sides recognize that universal truth that political compromises have to be a two-way street.

In his recent visit to Beijing, police commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung said the force would use both "hard and soft" tactics in handling protesters. His statement was meaningful in its hint at a compromise, but unfortunately that was subsumed by reports of his presence at a Tiananmen national flag hoisting.

For it would have been unimaginable in the past to mention "soft" tactics.

Sunday's march marked the first time that the force had not, since August, objected to. Was that a manifestation of the kind of softness that Tang had meant?

Many of the marchers clung, with the five fingers of their upreached hands, to the five demands that, among others, included an independent investigation into police brutality and universal suffrage for chief executive and legislative elections.

With these marchers insisting on the government meeting all five demands, is there really no room for compromise?

One cannot emphasize enough that political compromise can only occur along a two-way street, and progress must be seen to be made for this truce to be made much more tangible and for all of us to be able to put this sorry chapter in our history behind us.

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