By Chris Yeung
New People’s Party chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is right to say the fate of the Territory-wide Systems Assessment (TSA) tests for Primary 3 pupils will not be the defining issue in the upcoming district council elections. But she is wrong to dismiss the importance of the tussle between the opponents and the government over TSA in swinging voters’ decision in the November 22 poll.
Mrs Ip, a legislator who is formerly a security minister, was cynical of the campaign mounted by the Civic Party to oppose the tests at a time when the campaign for district council seats heated up.
She said at a forum on Monday: “They (The Civic Party) have tried to create a perception that those who support scrapping TSA are human beings, and those who are against (abolishing) it are demons. They want to make it the defining issue in the election. But the public responded coolly to the campaign.”
Mrs Ip, whose party has fielded a total of 42 candidates (seven were elected uncontested) to vie for seats, is adamant district issues are still the defining issue in the contest.
She added that political parties representing different political views remain unclear about the impact of last year’s Occupy Central protests on voters’ behaviour.
True, it is seemingly clear that the 79-day protests are not likely to significantly swing the decision of voters in one way or another in next month’s election.
TSA not the defining election issue, but…
It is equally obvious that voters will not take TSA as the single factor when deciding who to vote for.
But it is naive to dismiss the significance of the TSA issue in voters’ perception of the government. Put plainly, how the government, or more precisely, the relevant minister in handing the row is arguably more important than the tests themselves.
On that front, education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim would be given a F.
Ng was the subject of bad publicity – again – on Thursday when he expressed regret for not being to attend a public hearing on TSA to be held by the Legislative Council’s education panel on November 29, citing unspecified prior private engagement.
Although the panel has been deliberately scheduled after the district council is held, the no-show of Ng has and will give more ammunition to the opponents of the tests.
Faced with growing public pressure at a time of election, the pro-establishment camp has no choice but to join the chorus of criticism, albeit in a mild manner.
Mrs Ip argued TSA was a “technical issue” that should be left to experts, cautioning against simplifying the debate as a matter of yes or no.
Chairperson of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong Starry Li Wai-king avoided saying yes and no to the TSA. That’s not a surprise in view of her background as a member of the Executive Council. Ng has insisted there is no need to abolish the tests. For Li to say otherwise could imply a deviation from government policy. She has urged the Education Bureau to come up with solutions that would create immediate effect.
That the pro-establishment figures opted not to give full backing to the tests shows clearly their concerns that their candidates might lose votes if they ignored the voices of opposition against TSA.
Speaking at the Monday forum, Mrs Ip said the Education Bureau should double their efforts to defuse the row.
Apparently, her voices have fallen on deaf ears.
Chris Yeung is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.
Photo: Picture from Good Hope School website