Hong Kong’s Civic Party and League of Social Democrats are to go ahead with their ‘referendum’ plan. Five of the groups’ Legislative Council members will resign in two weeks to trigger a by-election in each geographical constituency, which they will contest by appealing for full universal suffrage in 2012 (or at least, they lamely add, a hard promise of democracy in 2017-21).
The government has two broad options.
It can play it cool, basically ignore the whole thing, and trust that the rest of the population will conclude that the exercise is silly and pointless. The Democratic Party, the traditional mainstream but increasingly irrelevant and depressing part of the pan-democratic camp, has partly undermined the stunt by refusing to take part. Low public interest will equal a low turnout, which raises the possibility of pro-Beijing candidates winning some of the races. So a calm and confident leadership would sit back and carry on with its smooth and competent handling of public affairs as if nothing was happening.
Alternatively, the government can go into panic mode, spark the people’s interest with a whiff of official fear, and set the scene for something much more exciting. Although genuine universal suffrage in 2012/17/21 is a stale and lost cause, a ‘referendum’ on the government’s popularity could be a hit. If the pan-democrats have the wit to focus the by-election campaign on the high-speed rail project, property companies’ misleading sales tactics, poor opportunities for the young and a few other lightning rods, a lot of voters might like to turn out to give Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his sorry band a bloody nose.
The pro-dems probably don’t have the wit to do that, and the government doesn’t have the clear-headedness to damn the referendum project by not even noticing it, so chances are we will end up with everyone coming out of this looking foolish.
This is a pity because if they did get their act together, a resounding victory could await the pro-democrats. Despite the bland re-hashing of the party line in the government’s 1,049-word statement released late last night, officials are going to be rattled by the referendum plan. They have much to be nervous about.
The Bow-Tie regime is bogged down, friendless, under siege and generally floundering in a way that gives a warm inner glow to those of us nostalgic for the days of Tung Chee-hwa. Executive Council member Leung Chun-ying is an enemy within, decrying – if you read between the lines – Donald’s inflexible and outdated bureaucratic mindset, the influence of the property cartel, and the Big Lychee’s increasingly perceived social fracture.
A new ‘post-80s’ group of young radical protestors has joined the ranks of oppositionists crowding round the government’s bunker. Some genius authorized the arrest and subsequent tattoo-photographing of the starlet of these youth agitators, Christina Chan, as she stepped out of Radio Television Hong Kong on Saturday after giving a radio interview. The Internet is sizzling with angry politicized teens and students.
A paper being privately circulated by an academic and member of the pro-Beijing Business and Professionals Federation warns in the title that “A storm is coming,” criticizes our leaders for failing the next generation in terms of prospects, quality of life and democracy, and discusses various ‘tipping points’ that could push angry young people to extremes. Even Monday’s sleep-inducing op-ed column in the SCMP by one Alice Wu lamented the government of a ‘disintegrating community’.
The scene is set, the mood is right, and the opportunity is there to give Donald Tsang his Tung-on-July-1-2003 moment. Now watch the pro-democrats botch it up.