The Hong Kong government plumbs new depths of spiritlessness today with a plaintive and almost childlike appeal on its news website to whoever happens to pass by: ‘Please support the 2012 constitutional package’. As in ‘Please mister, will you help get my pet kitten down from the tree?’
Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s meek administration was painted into a corner by Beijing on the issue of political reform. When Donald first took over in 2005, much of the population were rejoicing at the replacement of the tragic Tung Chee-hwa with a smart British-trained local boy, and the traditional pro-Beijing patriots were aghast at the appointment of this colonial running dog to the top position. Sir Bow-Tie hubristically declared that he would fix political reform once and for all.
Then he presumably had a behind-the-scenes run-in with reality: it wasn’t going to be up to him. The electoral arrangements he proposed in late 2005 for 2008 with contrived aplomb represented a minimal, at best, step forward. The defeat of that package by the pro-democrats was a massive humiliation for Donald. He is now obediently submitting the package for a second time, and, without trying to sound at all apologetic about it, explaining in effect that this is the best he can do; the roadmap we used to hear so much about was never really an option.
A second rejection would seal his place, to the extent a Big Lychee Chief Executive has one, in the history books. Here lies the man who tried, twice, to get an insubstantial and barely even cosmetic change to the city’s political structure through a rigged legislature in the midst of widespread public indifference – and failed. Given his lack of other achievements (health care finance, a sales tax, pollution, etc), he will go down as an even bigger waste of space than old Tung.
In the course of grasping firm control of constitutional development in Hong Kong, Beijing too painted itself into something of a corner. Basic Law ‘interpretations’ and ambiguous but menacing utterances by Central People’s Government emissaries may have been intended to dampen expectations and enthusiasm for democracy, but if anything they increased polarization and made things worse. If those grim officials could turn the clock back, they would probably be more open about what they mean by ‘universal suffrage’ and more relaxed about developing the rigged system they have in mind but no-one openly talks about. But they can never be wrong.
So failure will be Hong Kong’s fault entirely, for not having a consensus – and for that, the Chief Executive must accept responsibility, uncomplainingly. Barred by his masters from offering anything of any substance, Donald has no choice but to grovel pathetically in a nothing-to-lose attempt to avoid a second burning slap in the face and two years’ inglorious lame-duck-hood.