Although its front page declares Civic Party boss Audrey Eu the winner of last night’s great debate with chief executive Donald Tsang, the Standard refers to her on page 4 as the ‘underdog’. This is the sort of underdog most of us would like to be. Two surveys on who did better gave Audrey 67% and 71% to Donald’s respective 15% and 14%.
Viewers of the clash on PCCW’s now TV were treated to a little gauge across the bottom of the screen showing some sort of real-time approval rating (communist red for him, Taiwan-independence green for her). At first sight, the range of support for Audrey, from the high 70s to the 90s, looked overdone; the broadcaster is, after all, owned by Richard Li, a Civic Party sympathizer. But then, watching the fragrant, pro-democracy barrister stomping on Donald without mercy at times, you wondered how even 8% of the audience could judge the CE to be ahead. Even Donald would have pushed the Audrey button had he been watching at home.
More to the point, the debate – like the government’s other publicity campaigns – seems to have increased rather than reduced opposition to the electoral reform package for 2012. The only hope for a surge in support for the package now lies with Beijing and the rumours that a last-minute concession is on the way. Specifically, the murmuring says, the whole electorate will vote for the five new functional constituency seats for directly elected district council members.
The rumour owes much to former Justice Secretary and hardcore Communist Party loyalist Elsie Leung who changed her understanding about whether this moderate pro-democrats’ proposal is in accord with the Basic Law. At first she says it’s not, then she says it is. This might seem the slightly endearing sort of muddle you find in forgetful schoolmarmish spinsters in their twilight years. But when Elsie changes her understanding it usually means the old girl has had a telephone call.
Those of us who like a dash of Orwell with our congee will never forget how she changed her understanding of what the Basic Law said about the term of office for a chief executive (Donald) who takes over mid-term. At first she said he would have a full five years in office (which the Basic Law indeed said), then she said he wouldn’t (after Beijing produced an ‘interpretation’ of the law giving it a totally different and indeed illogical meaning). As she put it: “Having considered … new arguments and information, I consider that our earlier position was incorrect. We must therefore admit our mistake and change our view. To do otherwise would be disrespectful of the rule of law.” Freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength.
The idea that the CCP is about to make a concession to Hong Kong’s pro-democrats is too ridiculous for words. The CCP does not do concessions to its own citizens, whose role for 3,000 years has been to tremble and obey. (If it did happen – however trivial or stingy it might seem – it would be unprecedented. It would have to be part of a bigger game plan whereby the Big Lychee would in practice become more tightly managed by Beijing. Even so, Hong Kong’s opposition would be strongly advised to grab it, fall to the ground and grovel in adoring thanks, because otherwise it might be another three millennia before you see it happen again.)
That said, something is afoot when Elsie changes her understanding. Most likely, Beijing early next week will announce a sort of quasi-concession: if the package gets through Legco on Wednesday, we will make a firm commitment to (say) some semi-directly-elected functional constituencies for 2016. The pro-democrats would spit in contempt, and we will draw nearer to the Armageddon Donald warned about last night. The nail-biting tension continues.
Will Donald entertain us with any more acts of public self-flagellation? As a way of convincing us that he is desperate to get the package through, undergoing Death by Audrey on live TV was – if we are to be honest – quite impressive. It would be rather decent of him to submit himself (as did his predecessor, now I think about it) to further highly publicized bouts of human bear-baiting. We need a bit of fun.