Just two days after its inauguration, legislator Regina Ip’s shiny New People’s Party is starting to look a bit tatty.
One reason Beijing is, for all practical purposes, tossing the ‘pro-business’ Liberal Party aside in favour of a broader grouping is that it wants the middle-class, the Western-educated and The Kids to have a home in the United Front, away from all the nasty disloyal pan-democrats. Despite some sterling efforts to be trendier, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong doesn’t offer it: its constituencies remain the public housing residents, the locally schooled, the Mainland-connected and the provincial. The Liberals, rich slimeballs, were no less uncool. No wonder Hong Kong Island votes for the glamorous and cosmopolitan Civic Party and the post-80s generation likes radicals like Long Hair Leung Kwok-hung; they have nowhere else to go.
Regina has been cultivating groupies since she was at Stanford, and she has nurtured a youthful and middle-class following through her Savantas ‘think tank’. Activities include internships, summer school classes for secondary students and Learning English With Regina, not to mention cooking and hair-cutting. She is quite well-suited for this sort of thing; as a former cream-of-the-civil-service Administrative Officer, she is a stereotype of the worldly Hong Kong middle-class success to which a key chunk of the population aspires. The amazing thing is that Beijing’s officials in the Big Lychee, forever fine-tuning and fussing over hearts and minds, have taken so long to work it out.
However, if you are going to have official endorsement from the Central People’s Government’s emissaries you must tailor your opinions, principles and spoken words to suit an official line. And thus Regina has no choice but to tarnish her New People’s Party’s credibility by declaring that Hong Kong needs to retain functional constituencies, the easily manipulated electorates that fill half the seats in the Legislative Council.
The South China Morning Post report quotes her as saying that they should be reformed to give each voter two ballots: the existing one for a geographical constituency, plus one for an FC. The Hong Kong, and thus national, government has already pretty much announced that this is the direction we will take to achieve ‘universal suffrage’ in Legislative Council elections in 2022. But Regina goes further. She produces reasons that are old and tired and almost calculated to damage the NPP’s image, such as it is, in the eyes of much of its target audience.
She makes the point that many countries divide legislative assemblies into two chambers, so it’s all to do with checks and balances. But then you get the distinct impression she was caught off guard here. Her party includes professionals, therefore it could appeal to small trade-based FC franchises. And, she says, one person-one vote “could lead to populist politics easily. Professionals [who are] more detached from populism can give more balanced views.”
The idiocy of the comment is self-evident (you would have thought she had learned something from the time she declared that ‘Hitler came to power by democratic election’). Where the Big Lychee’s FCs are concerned, it is a particularly crass thing to say because professionals occupying these privileged seats have a long track record of putting vested interests ahead of the public good. The Engineering Constituency lobbies for pointless infrastructure projects, for example, and lawyers, doctors, teachers and accountants push their own causes. It is small-circle ‘populism’.
All Regina needs here is a little honesty. Admittedly, you have to check some of that in at the door marked ‘Beijing’s blessing’, but it can’t be beyond the wit of her to come up with a less vacuous and obsolete reason to keep FCs. The simple truth is that we must retain FCs in some form, even if we all get to vote for them in a variant of universal suffrage, because their candidate nomination procedures can be rigged, and that can ensure that opponents of the Chinese Communist Party do not get a majority vote in the legislature. In a one-party state, that is the closest to democracy you can have; a genuinely open election isn’t an option.
Even pan-democrats seem to be in denial about this, and no-one on the pro-establishment side will say it openly, but that’s no excuse for coming up with blather about professionals giving more balanced views. All she has to say is ‘ideally we should scrap FCs but meantime let everyone vote for them’, which at least reflects government policy.
Fortunately for Regina and her NPP, the pro-democrats who could use these words against her in future are too self-absorbed to jot the remarks down and keep them for future reference, maybe even putting them on the Internet for all to see for eternity. But putting your foot in your mouth just a day after the coming-out party isn’t a great start. It’s not cool, and no-one’s going to drag the 20-somethings away from the pan-democrats unless they’re cool.