With awkwardly grinning tycoon/bureaucrat buddies in tow, disaster-stricken Chief Executive hopeful Henry Tang submits his nomination papers and officially becomes a ‘candidate’ in what was supposed to be a carefully scripted ritual masquerading as an ‘election’. It’s as if no-one has told him that another bimbo outbreak is in the news, Regina Ip is girding her redoubtable loins, and the whole process has degenerated into a hilarious shambles. He is going through this because Beijing’s officials have told him to; if it makes him look absurd, they no doubt feel, so much the better.
One positive effect of this saga is that it leaves the media with no excuse to continue perpetuating the lie that the selection of Hong Kong’s leader has anything to do with a vote – unless you count a show of hands in the Politburo Standing Committee. The Economist’s Banyan column this week names the charade for what it is. The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, still seems to imagine that what will happen on March 25 can be termed an ‘election’ with 1,200 participants exercising a free (or indeed any) choice. To use the official nomenclature is to misrepresent the facts.
Another benefit from this mess – apart from its entertainment value – is that it has left many of our most prominent self-regarding tycoons looking, and more to the point surely feeling, like asses. While ordinary citizens may always have seen them as stooges, our ‘elite’ businessmen have never doubted their influence in high places or their entitlement to it. They are now finding out that Beijing couldn’t care less if they lose face right now. Those who live by the shoe-shine, die by the shoe-shine.
It would be tempting to hope that this whole fiasco will mark a turning point of some sort. Whatever else happens, we might think, the Central People’s Government must now have lost faith in Hong Kong’s fawning tycoons and will order the next administration to deliver more even-handed policies rather than just promote the ‘property hegemony’ of a few rent-seeking families. Anyone anticipating such a twilight of the cartel-gods should rush out and buy the latest Time Out HK, with its Hemlock mega-feature. It will be a souvenir to treasure in decades to come, as you explain to your grandchildren what life was like when 700-square foot apartments had just 530 square feet of space and there were only two supermarket chains in town.
Cynics who suspect that we may not have seen the last of the raptor-developers’ economic dominance quite yet may also find food for thought in the magazine. A fair bit, but not all, of the feature is now on-line, including the big article on how Hong Kong’s parasitical business caste rips you off and why they get away with it. It turns out to be timelier than anyone expected, thus worth a gratuitous plug.