For the second weekend in a row, Hong Kong’s tireless government officials hit the streets (or shopping malls, to be more accurate) in an attempt to persuade the public to somehow support the political reform package with no real reform in it.
The previous weekend, Chief Executive Donald Tsang and his colleagues gave no warning before cruising through town on an open-topped bus and handing out leaflets to passers-by. The idea behind this novel concept of a secret publicity blitz was to avoid the vast hordes of the tiny unrepresentative minority of troublemakers who would come out to jeer. But the anticlimactic mood of the event provoked its own mockery, not least from the media, who were upset at not being invited along.
This time, the Information Services Department reckoned the solution was to give the press a couple of hours’ notice each time of our T-shirted leaders’ appearances. By the time protestors had telexed or faxed one another about the time and place, and taken rickshaws or trams to travel there, the great Act Now Show would have moved on to the next location, leaving thousands of enthused citizens avidly supporting the government’s proposal. For some reason, this devious scheme failed to work, and large numbers of the tiny minority turned up to heckle and hurl personal insults at Sir Bow-Tie, as in “scurrying rat”. Donald, safely behind lines of police, ended up shouting back, declaring not “L’etat c’est moi,” exactly, but insisting that the detractors were the minority.
The hope is to get 70% of the public to tell pollsters they think, at least grudgingly, that the package should get through. Yet the (in some ways unprecedented) direct appeal to common decent folk is turning into yet another clash between an inept and unpopular administration and a sizeable proportion of the thinking population. (It would be interesting to know how many of yesterday’s protestors turned up after being invigorated by the 150,000-plus turnout for the June 4 vigil and/or angered by the ham-fisted police statue-confiscation drama that surely prompted it.*)
Will perceptive government advisors (if any) suggest cooling the propaganda campaign as provocative and confrontational, and adopting a more humble, honest and respectful approach, treating the public as adults and appealing even for their sympathy? With the seedier end of the pro-Beijing spectrum reduced to offering cash to people attending a rally in favour of the non-reform reforms, officials can justifiably plead with us to look at what sort of support they currently have to put up with, and take pity. A flock of winged pigs will circle the Peak beforehand.
Meanwhile, fans of Hong Kong government promotional materials will be delighted to know that a new TV commercial featuring such semi-celebrities as a spiky-haired young inventor, a starlet and her baby, and a soccer player is now on the air. Note the target demographics: young educated/geeky types, young dimmer/dreamy women, young riffraff/gambling guys – the whole youth vote in one ad (apart from the obedient patriotic/Evangelical kids, who are already on board). This comes after the last attempt to woo admirers of boring middle-aged Executive Council members. At least they had the sense not to insult us with perennial government stooge Jackie Chan.
This just in: Hong Kong’s great national pastime ‘How many 7-Elevens can you see from one street corner?’ has now officially been replaced by ‘Spot the most Act Now banners’.
*The one theory no-one has yet considered: someone in government ordered the cops to pull the stupid statue-confiscation stunt and thus boost turnout at the vigil in order to send a message to Beijing about the futility of heavy-handed action. I think that covers every possibility.