China, as everyone knows, has 56 officially recognized nationalities, or ethnic groups. The number was originally bigger, but central planners amalgamated some tribes and clans in neighbouring districts, perhaps to simplify the job of assigning them their official costumes and folk songs. Judging by the happy, smiling Miao, Xibe and Yao people we see sporting dazzling headgear at National People’s Congress gatherings, they are all, as we are told, delighted to be part of the Chinese family.
How will Mainland officials classify Dutch-born Chinese citizen and Hong Kong Southern District Council member Paul Zimmerman when he takes his seat between the grinning Manchu lady and the sleeping PLA general in the Great Hall of the People at the next NPC meeting? Will they make him an honorary Han or create a 57th happy, smiling minority just for him?
Sadly, we will not find out. Getting onto the ballot for the election of Hong Kong’s NPC delegates turns out to be surprisingly easy. You need a handful of nominations, and since a handful of pro-democrats form a small portion of the loyalist-stacked election committee, it’s no problem. It’s certainly more open than the race for the five ‘Super Seats’ at last September’s Legislative Council elections. But that was a real poll, in which the pan-dems could and did enjoy success. The vote for delegates to China’s rubber-stamp parliament is about as rigged as it gets. China’s local Liaison Office is not above circulating a shortlist of 36 recommended candidates, which the obedient majority of voters will endorse.
Mr Z says the campaign will give him an opportunity to air his views. The snag is that – for obvious reasons – not much of a campaign takes place. Hopefuls will earnestly lobby potential voters by phone (it’s amazing how many people angle for support on the off-chance that China’s local officials will notice them and pick them for the list). Conversely, Liaison Office officials may have tapped people on the shoulder and urged them to get nominated, which is no doubt how a few fresh faces from business and even the civil service have ended up on the NPC in recent years alongside the traditional scowling old guys few recognize. Pro-Beijing organizations represented on the election committee may invite selected candidates to closed-door meetings and Q&A sessions, but don’t expect public debates or TV coverage, or a groovy website in six languages. Unlike the equally rigged but in-your-face Chief Executive election, this process could take place without most of the population even noticing. It’s sometime in January, if I recall.
(That said, a guerilla/street-theatre campaign would be great. Put the silk sash on, print some glossy leaflets, gather some volunteers, and hit the streets collecting 100,000 signatures from Hongkongers demanding Paul Z as their delegate to the nation’s ‘highest organ of state power’.)
If it’s any consolation, Southern District Council has more genuine decision-making power than the 3,000-strong NPC, which can’t even relocate a bus stop. And being a Hong Kong NPC delegate is a well-known pain in the backside: you have to spend 10 days a year stuck in Beijing hotels waiting for Mainland counterparts to finish their after-lunch naps, so everyone can go into the Great Hall to dutifully vote to approve the next lengthy work report. At least the District Council gets to push a literary trail and visit Ocean Park.