On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Michael, the comic, shows what’s ailing HK

Last week, I was in Hong Kong to
watch the 56-year-old Sam entertain a crowd of 12,000 people, mostly
middle-aged, at the Coliseum. With the help of a friend from Hong
Kong, I managed to obtain tickets that were sold out within two
hours months earlier.

Michael, who is trying to make a comeback with his new
movie Three of a Kind, was a guest at the show. Living up to his reputation as
a sharp stand-up comic, he had plenty of political jokes – all targeted at
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.

Midway through his routine, Michael announced that China
was trailing 1-2 against archrival Japan
in the Asian Cup final. Japan
went on to win 3-1 in the emotionally charged soccer match.

But at the concert hall, the crowd loudly roared with
approval on hearing China
was losing. In classic Cantonese humour, based largely on cynicism and the play
of tone and words, Michael said the blame fell largely on Tung.

He then urged the crowd to repeat after him as to who
should bear the responsibility for the loss. The crowd chorused "Tung". The
point Michael was trying to make was that Tung symbolises what was wrong with Hong
Kong now, particularly its moribund economy and his handling of

Hong Kong is no longer the
financial centre it once was. That status has gone to Shanghai
where most of the Chinese leaders originate.

When Hong Kong clinched the deal
to set up a Disneyland theme park, there was renewed
hope. But it didn't last long because Shanghai
also announced that it, too, had the deal.

Hong Kong folk used to mock the
mainlanders for their lack of finesse and wealth but the territory is now
depending, to a large extent, on the spending power of 30,000 Chinese tourists
who arrive daily.

There were more punches from Michael. He said that 12
years ago when the brothers made their movies, they used to portray the
frustrations of Hong Kong people living in a place where
money was everything.

Times have changed, he said. When motorists get into an
accident, they still get uptight but they no longer fight – they probably blame
Tung for the accident.

Tung and the pro-Beijing politicians are certainly the
most unpopular people around. With Hong Kong holding its
legislative race next month, China
has reason to worry about intense anti-government sentiments.

Analysts expect voter turnout to surge beyond the 43.6%
of 2000. A total of 162 candidates have filed to contest the 60 seats, the
highest so far, in what has been billed as the fight between Beijing
loyalists and democracy champions in the territory. In 2000, 146 candidates
contested the polls.

The Legislative Council (Legco) is Hong Kong's
top lawmaking body – 30 elected directly and 30 chosen by largely pro-Beijing
professional and business groups.

Democrats command 22 seats now while the pro-Beijing
group has more than 30 seats. Voters get to choose 30 of the seats.

Surveys conducted so far show that the pro-democracy
candidates are ahead. Former radio host Albert Cheng – who quit the show after
receiving death threats – has joined the fray, a move that would irk China.

Talk is that the Democrats could end up with 28 seats,
which is not enough to form a majority.

The host of the popular Teacup in a Storm, who was sacked
by his employers, is contesting as an independent candidate but he could split
the votes of the Democratic Party.

The territory's top pro-Beijing party, the Democratic
Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, has acknowledged it would be a tough

Said David Tang, the founder of China Clubs and Shanghai Tang:
"The most dangerous thing about our government is that Tung and his civil
servants constantly try to second guess what Beijing
wants. But none is smart enough to do so.

"The leadership in China
comes from a revolutionary background. Hong Kong only knows
how to survive in a bourgeois society. How can they think we are at the same

Mainland officials and pro-Beijing leaders have called
the pro-democracy politicians "traitors" and "pawns of the western powers",
accusing them of fanning separatism and tarnishing the Chinese image.

But the practical people of Hong Kong
prize the economy more than lofty ideals. At the same time, the voters also
want their leaders to stand up to Beijing
but not fight it. That's a tough call, for sure.