Dr. Hon. Eric Li’s Speech on Valedictory Motion
10 July 2004
Since I announced my withdrawal from the forthcoming LegCo elections, some colleagues have spoken to me, in confidence, of their envies for my freedom from the election campaign. And some friends of mine in the media have repeatedly asked me about the reasons behind this decision. Having answered this kind of questions on numerous occasions, I had thought there would not be much left to be said today. My friends in the media, however, suggested that I do something “sensational” for a change – “blab” around a bit, for instance. But I do have a merit of taking a proper measure of myself – as the saying goes, “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” As such, it would perhaps be better for me blab about my own “flops” than about someone else’s.
My thirteen-years worth of experience in the political circle tells me that things do not always go the way I want them. The only thing that I can really decide for myself is when, and under what circumstances I am leaving this political circle. I came up with three options: First, to go with a boom, to try what Allen Lee has tried – get a taste of what direct elections would be like. Second, to step down with dignity and integrity like Edward Leong (It is a pity that his resignation came late; I did have the impulse to join him in resignation. Unfortunately, I had announced my decision so early that I would not be able to follow him even if I wanted to). Third, to leave quietly: “Unburdened I came, so depart I shall, bearing away with me not a cloudling.”
Life on the political stage is a drama. I once considered myself a steady, steadfast and professional character, but it turned out that I am only fit to play a supporting role. It is something I rather regretted. I had tried being a political star, making efforts to re-create my image and striving for a breakthrough, but without much success. Now I realize that I am destined to be who I am, to seek peace and calmness within myself.
I have tried imitating a number of legislators. (But please, do not take what I am going to say too seriously. Just take it as gibberish and pardon me for that.) The first one was the Honourable Cheung Man-kwong. At first I noticed that the Hon. Cheung Man-kwong had a gift in oration. He spoke with an effortless eloquence which often gained him coverage in the news. I did not think highly of it; I thought it was within everyone’s capability to discuss educational issues, so I gave it a go. I spoke of the weighty schoolbags, meaning it as an allusion to the pressure imposed by our education system on the students. But my remarks lacked substance and proved only to be a poor imitation. At that time the newspapers criticized what I had spoken about the schoolbags as the silliest of comments. Yet the Hon. Cheung Man-kwong brings up the topic year after year, and year after year he continues to appear on newspapers. Then I came to realize that he was not that easy to imitate.
I have also tried copying the Hon. Yeung Sum and the Hon. Hui Yin-fat, both of whom discuss social welfare issues. I myself have been Chairman of the Social Welfare Advisory Committee and the Commission on Youth. The hot topic at the time was “keeping mistresses”. I found legislators such as the Hon. Fred Li Wah-ming and the Hon. Andrew Cheng Kar-foo to be immensely popular among housewives, literally “housewife killers”. They seemed rather cool and cheerful about this role they played. So I brought up the point of “de facto marriage” and pointed out the difference between “keeping mistresses” and “bigamy” was but a certificate of marriage. The evening papers “opened fire” on me that very evening. While a lot of ladies have given me their support, I received a barrage of criticism from the cultural circle and found my position utterly indefensible. I did not dare try playing the part of a “housewife killer” anymore.
As for legislators including the Hon. Martin Lee Chu-ming, the Hon. Andrew Wong Wang-fat and the Hon. Szeto Wah, I was impressed with their commanding presence when they delivered speeches on political issues. They had me itching to try my hand in political debates. In that period, the Hon. Allen Lee and the Hon. Howard Young joined arms with me to table the “1994 constitutional package.” But as we all know, the issue wound up tragically, with the LegCo “overflowing with tears.”
Tears can be a powerful political weapon; yet the effectiveness of this weapon depends on whether one wields it skilfully, whether one can move hearts with it. It is something I can never grasp, unlike some of our fellow legislators here. A drop of tear shed by the Hon. Lau Chin-shek sent waves of sentiment surging through the community; the Hon. Ronald Arculli wept and was made a hero of the people; the Hon. Lydia Dunn shed tears over the future of Hong Kong; the Hon. Mrs Sophie Leung Lau Yau-fun, the Hon. Michael Mak Kwok-fung and the Hon. Chan Kwok-keung cried yesterday for our SARS heroes. And me? Just a “bawling” baby with little political wisdom.
My most brilliant attempt was to join hands with the imposing figures of the Breakfast group of legislators, to “hit out” at the housing and land policies. Having found this promising subject, we zoomed in on the “85,000” housing policy and advanced a moratorium on the building of the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) flats. We wrote a joint letter to the then Housing Bureau, believing that we have found a topic worth building upon. To our surprise, the Secretary of Housing put up little resistance, and almost immediately reformed all relevant government policies. With the “85,000” housing policy scrapped and the building of HOS flats brought to a halt, my new topic of campaign in direct elections was gone, for there was nothing left to lobby for any more.
(Since the Hon. Miriam Lau Kin-yee had not spoken beforehand, I had no idea that they were calling me the “King of Accounts”.) Now, as for the Hon. James To Kun-sun, he has so many macho members of the police force listening to him. I intended to mimic him by addressing the issue of security, as I have also served on ICAC committees for fourteen years and the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Council) for eight years. Originally, I have planned to propose a bill concerning the independence of IPCC, but to this date I have not had the time to do so. It was a missed chance.
Now that I have mentioned some of my unsuccessful attempts, I would also like to talk about the qualities I wish I had possessed.
Madam President, many legislators have the qualities required for direct election. In my opinion, you are one of them. Seated in the throne of the President, you are a composed and stately figure, where I, in comparison, could not even sit tight (as you know, I was always going in and out of the Council chamber). Moreover, you have an air of suavity around you. Once you are off the high seat, a warm smile reappears on your face. Such qualities are that which I do not have.
The Hon. James Tien Pei-chun is a very “cool” legislator with an irresistibly magnetic charm. I am not complaining about him drawing away all the reporters by his very presence in the press room. I am talking about his uncanny ability to unite as one the seven parties, one breakfast group and one frontier. With such vote drawing powers, he surely will not have any difficulty in the elections.
The Hon. David Chu Yu-lin is a multi-talented and resourceful person. It would seem there is nothing that he does not know and cannot do. The eye-dazzling variety of his campaign activities for the elections is beyond my capability.
To describe the Hon. Mrs Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, a veteran politician, one only needs a slogan – which she coined herself – “service like this just isn’t good enough.” It has already become a household saying.
The Hon. Andrew Wong Wang-fat has a vividly imaginative line of thought. In debates, there is more to his arguments than meets the ear, and his approach of analysis seldom fails to surprise. I am only qualified to be his student.
The Hon. Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, the Hon. Martin Lee Chu-ming, the Hon. Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, the Hon. Margaret Ng and the Hon. Lau Kong-wah are all skilled debaters, relentless and perspicacious. Faced with them I am often struck speechless with admiration.
The Hon. Emily Lau Wai-hing is not only diligent, responsible and “amiable”, but she also has backbone, exemplified by her act of “street-sleeping” with the Hon. Andrew Cheng Kar-foo. This is something I lacked.
The Hon. Bernard Chan possesses not only unmatched youthfulness, but also the good looks of Ma Ying-jeou (the mayor of Taipei), either of which eludes me. I cannot touch upon all of you; nor do I have the time do so. All in all, every legislator carries unique qualities; every one of them is well-equipped to excel in the direct elections. What I can say about myself is that only when I dealt with matters concerning finance, economy, taxes or auditing was I able to recover some of my dignity. In this respect, the Hon. Miriam Lau Kin-yee and I are similar, for both of us feels a sense of affection at the mention of our own trade. We even share the same degree of concern for our own children.
There is an expression in English for destiny – “if only I was”. If only I was gifted with some of the enviable qualities of my colleagues, I would be treading a different path today. I have been on the path of politics for thirteen years, and end up realizing that I do not have the makings of a politician. I have travelled, and returned, full-circle, only rediscover my true self. I have to count myself lucky, for not only have I not lost my way in the journey, but these thirteen years has also brought me many fruitful returns, especially my many esteemed friends of like mind. Whatever unpleasant memories that had haunted me I am now finally able shrug off with ease, finally putting them behind me.
What I do remember are that in my pursuit of dreams, I have gone through the rainbow – so colourful it has been – and emerged from the other side, bearing with me mementos of so glittering a journey. So here and now I am, at the clearing of the path, once again travelling with a light heart and equally light footsteps. I hope, my honourable friends, that you will all find your own ways and master your destinies, and that when you are all back here this coming October, you will keep at heart that somewhere out there, among the common people, is a friend who is concerned about all of you and who keeps a curious eye on how all of you will fight for the future of Hong Kong.