Hong Kong's Carrie Lam forced to abandon speech after protests

16 October 2019, 08:59 | Updated: 28 October 2019, 15:26

Carrie Lam's latest attempt to assert her authority lasted only a few minutes.

Hong Kong's chief executive twice tried to give her Policy Address - a formal outline of her government's agenda, a bit like the Queen's Speech in the UK - in the Legislative Council.

Amid heckling and shouts of "Five demands not one less" from pro-democracy legislators, she gave up and retreated, instead delivering the address via a video link instead. This is the first time that has happened

Au Nok-hin, a pro-democracy legislator, compared her afterwards to Osama Bin Laden, delivering speeches from an Afghan cave, which is stretching it a bit.

But one criticism of Lam is that, especially in the early days of the Hong Kong protests, she was about as visible as a submarine. This adds to that impression.

And when she surfaced here, she offered little for protesters. Her speech was heavy on detailed economic policies.

That's telling because it's very similar to the Chinese Communist Party's diagnosis of the Hong Kong protests - that they are fundamentally an economic issue, not a political one.

This was the opening of Hong Kong's political season, after the last one was closed early when protesters stormed the Legislative Council - the parliament - in July.

But if politics is the art of compromise, Lam and Beijing are in no mind to offer that.

Neither, too though, are the pro-democracy politicians. Heckling isn't unusual in the Legislative Council. But opposition politicians didn't allow Lam the chance to speak.

The same for the chants of "Five demands not one less". It's a good slogan for the streets but some of those demands are politically impossible.

Legislators' job is to translate those demands into meaningful results, which will require dialogue and compromise.

They should focus on the demands that can be achieved.

As protests become ever more chaotic - a homemade bomb was remotely-detonated this weekend - it's even more important that pro-democracy legislators represent the vast majority of non-violent protesters, and find ways to advance their cause.

On Tuesday, protesters burned American basketball superstar LeBron James's jerseys after he said he did not think Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was "educated on the situation" when he tweeted his support for the pro-democracy movement.

It prompted a massive backlash from China where the National Basketball Association (NBA) is a multi-billion dollar business.

Pro-democracy politicians can argue fairly that Lam has been ignoring them. But it they think Lam is incompetent, they need to show that they can be better, more imaginative, more politically adept than her.

Instead they themselves are behaving like protesters. Many of them have been on the streets too but they also have a seat in the chamber, which they should use.

The fundamental problem remains: a leaderless protest movement confronting a leaderless government.

At the end of her televised address, Lam said that Hong Kong "is now facing the most formidable challenge since our return to the Motherland".

Is anyone in Hong Kong up to that challenge?