Scintillating Justice Secretary Wong Yan-lung says that passage of the Hong Kong government’s electoral non-reform package will “help achieve consensus in the Legislative Council over the future of functional constituency seats.” Although the official press release for some reason fails to elaborate, this is a superficially attractive argument that could help swing public opinion behind the package.
Wong’s reasoning is that, under the proposals, functional constituencies’ veto power over future reforms will be diluted by the five additional FC seats elected by district councils. This would, so the theory goes, make it much easier for a bill broadening FC franchises or even abolishing the things to get through Legco. The assumption is that FCs elected by restricted corporate franchises representing commercial interests will fight to the death to preserve their exclusive status, while those elected by relatively large numbers of humans (pro-democrat teachers, nurses, lawyers, etc) will be happy to vote for their seats’ extinction. District Council representatives, with no economic privileges to protect, will help tilt the balance away from the plutocrats in the functional part of the quasi-bicameral system.
This argument has a logic to it. Although the FC ‘chamber’ is divided along pro-democrat/pro-Beijing lines, it is split by another division: that between big-business (banks, factory owners, real estate, etc) and everyone else (the pro-democracy professionals plus constituencies for labour and some small-business sectors, which are rigged to produce pro-Beijing representatives). The five new district council seats (like the existing one) would obviously fall into the latter group of FCs. A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that passage of the government’s proposals could shift the balance from roughly 1:1 to 1:1.3 in favour of the non-tycoon FCs. This even raises the theoretical prospect of the FC bloc being less able to promote the rights of producers over consumers, or private interests over public in other legislative affairs.
But if that were the case, why are the tycoons’ FC representatives in Legco supporting the reform package so avidly, for example through the Alliance for Constitutional Development? They might calculate that there are enough grey areas between the tycoon and non-tycoon FCs to enable them to keep their influence; for example, the sports/culture seat is occupied by a second-generation plutocrat. (Anyway, their presence in the weak legislature is not the cause of the big family-owned conglomerates’ behind-the-scenes sway over policymaking.) But the simple fact is that Beijing’s liaison office has phoned them up and told them to support it. And if Beijing can do that now, it can do it at any time it likes further down the road. The FCs’ supposed ability to veto reform is a myth. Wong Yan-lung’s “consensus” (actually a victory through numbers by one side) is whatever the Liaison Office says it is, now or at any time.
Still, FCs are a linchpin in the reform drama, and on the face of it this could be an interesting argument for officials to push more vigorously, were they confident that its basic illogicality would be overlooked by witless pro-democrats too busy splitting hairs on what constitutes the ideologically pure way to fight their good fight. Or could have been. It’s too late now: the city’s attention very obviously switched from politics to the World Cup over the weekend.