In the first Member’s Motion (IV, 1) in Wednesday’s Legislative Council meeting, the Civic Party’s fragrant Audrey Eu Yuet-mee proposes that the assembly urge…
“…all electors in Hong Kong to actively participate in the forthcoming by-elections in the five geographical constituencies to peacefully quantify public opinion through voting, so as to achieve the social effect of a de facto referendum, and strive for the expeditious implementation of genuine universal suffrage and abolition of functional constituencies.”
The tautology “effect of a de facto” is presumably an attempt to make the characterization of the polls as a referendum as palatable as possible to folk who, loyally following the ill-advised example set by Beijing’s local officials, publicly declare the idea to be somehow a constitutional abomination or even act of treachery, albeit perfectly legal. The use of the word ‘expeditious’ is an enormous, though totally expected, disappointment to those of us who have been waiting for the day when a Legco motion doesn’t feature the word (it appears twice, as a verb, in the following motion put forward by the Democratic Alliance of the Blah Blah of Hong Kong’s more-aromatic-than-fragrant Starry Lee).
The motion is a call for the people of the Big Lychee to register their discontent – and a desperate one. From property developers to pollution to schools to poverty to traffic congestion to consumer rip-offs to overspending on infrastructure to underspending on health, there is so much to be angry about that it should be easy to rouse, say, 40% of electors to turn up in May and vote overwhelmingly for the pro-democrats. The way things are looking, they will be lucky to get half that turnout, allowing pro-establishment figures to portray them, not unreasonably, as humiliated.
Much of the problem must be the pro-dems’ compulsive and self-indulgent focus on the abstraction that is political reform. Maybe functional constituencies are a cause, or a symptom, or a symbol of what is wrong with Hong Kong, but after a quarter of a century, people are numbed to them and to wrangling over them. Much to the relief, no doubt, of the bureau-plutocracy that runs this city, the government’s opponents mostly chant structures and concepts rather than food, housing and hospitals. The nearest to an uprising the motion might lead to is a walkout from Legco by the pro-government lawmakers.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, and indeed planet, we have the US Tea Party movement, the latest in a long line of grassroots backlashes against the federal government. Like its predecessors (eg the Ross Perot fad), it is less representative than it thinks and will fizzle out. It probably is, as House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggests, being hijacked by the Republicans (and partly engineered by vested interests, and partly aligned with the Democrats’ aims). Most of all, some of its followers have mental health rather than political complaints. It would be interesting to know what percentage of them believe:
- the US government was behind the 9-11 attacks;
- President Barack Obama was not born a US citizen and/or is a Muslim;
- the US government has plans to round up domestic opponents and put them in concentration camps and/or confiscate all private legally held firearms;
- the Bible is the literal truth and scientific explanations for the origins of the universe, the planet’s geology and different life forms are wrong; or
- the European Union is the Kingdom of the Antichrist foretold in the Books of Revelations and Daniel.
Even given all this, there is a large group of decent, sane people out there who are genuinely furious about bank bailouts and bonuses, unemployment and evictions of homeowners, and scared by the apparent calamity and uncertainty around them. Tea Partiers’ votes could affect the outcome of some elections later this year.
In Hong Kong, maybe it would be called the Yum Cha movement. Or maybe it would be more historically resonant to see the local equivalent of the Boston Tea Party as Commissioner Lin Zexu’s defiance of colonial power in throwing British merchants’ opium into the sea at Humen in 1839. (The comparison is faulty, but for the more Anglophile pro-dems he would be the ideal patriot-hero figurehead.)
It won’t happen, even if we caught a glimpse of it over the high-speed express rail project. Partly, perhaps, because Hong Kong people are too docile, cynical, busy, splintered or self-centred, but mainly because the words needed to spark a fire aren’t there – just more endless droning on about universal suffrage.
Maybe we should call it the Dinner Party, in honour of Mao’s definition of what a revolution is not.