The Civic Party
Not surprisingly, the CP can’t resist mishandling the extremely generous present it has been given – a live, one-on-one TV debate with Chief Executive Donald Tsang on political reform. Examining this gift horse minutely in the mouth, they might have noticed that its jaws had ‘victory’ written on them and a presence between them of something called ‘defeat’, which they would be well advised not to touch. But no, they have to toy with it, demanding that the debate be held in a university, with a live audience and with a particular host. Incredibly, they do not even seem to be averse to opening the event up to other parties. Only Sir Bow-Tie’s bizarre fixation with putting CP leader and by-election/referendum troublemaker Audrey Eu on a pedestal can save the idiots.
Surely, the correct CP response to the invitation would be simply to agree to whatever Donald suggests. You’ve just been offered a free, half-hour, prime-time TV commercial: shut up and don’t argue. You prime Audrey with facts and figures about developers’ profit margins, the affordability of homes, hospital waiting lists, wasteful capital expenditure and specific examples of collusion and favours, and you make sure she can link it all up with the functional constituencies and the rest of the political structure. Then, as Donald presents his dazzling oratory on step-by-step progress and consensus and win-win situations, she can give it to him right between the eyes: this is a corrupt system – why won’t you change it? Make people angry.
Just as Donald seems to have a death wish in putting himself in a position where this might happen, so the CP seem to be trying to give him room to escape. (All that real-estate-linked legal work the glamorous barristers get probably concentrates the mind a bit.)
The HK government
While we watch this battle of incompetents both trying to lose first, it is worth recalling that all this weirdness is driven by the Hong Kong government’s extraordinary determination to get the 2012 political non-reform package through. The more cynical you are about Beijing’s interference, the more obvious it must be that this is because the Central People’s Government wants it implemented.
Some commentators like to say that Beijing would not be too upset if the package failed, as it would be an excuse to delay further ‘gradual and orderly’ progress towards whatever rigged quasi-democracy the national authorities have in mind for us one day. Yet the Liaison Office’s moves to woo the supposedly moderate pro-democrats – and the hyperactive efforts of the ever-obedient local administration – suggest this is not the case. And here, if Donald wants to be truly devious, is an opportunity for him to get that vote after all. He needs to spread a rumour, or a notion, or whatever people want to call it.
According to this rumour/notion, Mainland officials have become aware of the dysfunctional state of the current political structure here and are secretly regretting that they insisted on minimal change for 2012. Perhaps the increasingly obvious ineptitude of the pro-democrats encouraged them to see the issue less in terms of a theoretical challenge to CPG power and more as a practical problem of the perceived weak legitimacy and thus effectiveness of their appointed local administration.
Since the Communist Party is infallible, Beijing cannot reverse its previously stated position that the 2012 reforms must be as limited as they are. Yet Beijing is even more boxed in than that. It would also find it difficult to respond to a veto of this package by the pro-democrats with a more meaningful proposal for the 2016-17 elections, because that would implicitly admit that this current one was a mistake and the emperor must now produce what could be interpreted as a bigger concession to the will of the people.
Seen this way, China’s officials are actually quite desperate for the package to get through. They can then, while still seen as being in full control, arrange for a more serious move towards guided democracy for the following elections to give the city’s administration broader support as it tackles the ‘deep-rooted contradictions’ that even Premier Wen Jiabao seems to find such a concern. This means there might actually be some substance there if you read between the lines of the thoughts of the NPC Standing Committee’s Qiao Xiaoyang about ‘throwing open the door to universal suffrage’ – or even in the monotonous ramblings of mustelid Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Secretary Stephen Lam about ‘moving forward’.
Such a rumour/notion is what the Big Lychee’s leaders should get their oily go-betweens to spread among the pro-democrats to convince them to vote for, or abstain, next month. It might work, because it could even be true.