One of the big debates within Hong Kong’s sprawling pro-democracy camp is how much to engage with an unequal electoral system: should they fight the forces of evil wherever they can, or should they boycott plainly rigged contests out of principle? All of the half-dozen or so pan-democratic groups will take part in democratic polls for the Legislative Council. However, the more ideologically pure like Longhair Leung Kwok-hung refuse to do anything that might lend legitimacy to the Chief Executive pseudo-elections, at which Beijing’s hand-picked choice is given a rubber-stamp endorsement by several hundred mostly obedient Hongkongers.
Last time round in 2007, the more moderate pro-democrats managed to get a candidate nominated onto the ballot for the farcical CE election. We were therefore treated to the thoroughly amusing spectacle of petrified incumbent Donald Tsang enduring televised debates with the Civic Party’s easy-going Alan Leong.
The pro-democrats are planning to do something similar for next year’s CE joke-poll. Unable to resist an opportunity to make things unnecessarily complicated and more likely to lead to embarrassment, they are even considering some sort of primary election. The main issue, however, is this: should they be taking part at all, or should they follow Longhair’s lead this time and boycott?
The prospect of brainy, glamorous, sexy Audrey Eu stomping dimwitted Henry Tang into a pulp on live TV is undeniably hard to resist. However, the bigger picture has changed in the last five years: the system is creaking so visibly that even Beijing now realizes that Hong Kong has a governance problem at least partly due to the sort of incompetents it appoints to run the city. It could be argued that providing an opposition candidate with no chance of winning will help let the Central People’s Government off a hook. The pro-democrats could focus everyone’s attention on Beijing’s decision by standing aside and letting the farce take place in its full naked shame.
Even the Communist Party and its supporters now recognize that a one-man ballot looks ludicrous. So, if the pro-dems stood clear, would Beijing engineer the nomination of a second person as a candidate? If so, would it be a fall-guy whose job would be to pretend to take part and lose? In which case how would that go down among a skeptical and increasingly intolerant public? Or would we get a real race between two candidates both trusted by the central authorities? And who, pray, would they be? With two failures so far, Beijing is already in a tight spot picking CE number three. The absence of a pro-democrat pretend-candidate this time round could only further concentrate black hair-dye-clad minds. Sadly the pan-democrats can’t resist electioneering, even of the make-believe variety.