An anonymous source ‘close to Beijing’ suggests that some sort of preliminary election will take place when Hong Kong chooses its Chief Executive by universal suffrage, presumably in 2017. Most of us don’t need to be told the Chinese Communist Party cannot allow a popular vote without a guarantee that all candidates accept its monopoly of power; the Basic Law refers to universal suffrage in the context of ‘nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee’. As with the current Chief Executive Election Committee, ‘broadly representative’ means rigged via the selection of members who appear to represent ‘various sectors’ but are mostly loyal, with a crucial number who are totally obedient.
But some people can’t bring themselves to accept or admit this. Pro-Beijing and United Front figures insist on maintaining a fiction about how the CCP is cool with democracy. Former Justice Secretary Elsie Leung claims that whatever system emerges will be free and fair, while non-stop chatterer National People’s Congress delegate Rita Fan blathers away about how the process will be the equivalent of, say, a party-based primary election in the West.
Similarly, pro-democrats cling to their own fantasy about the ability of a one-party state to give up complete ultimate control. Former Chief Secretary Anson Chan is probably right in saying that Hongkongers wouldn’t vote for someone hostile to Beijing, but that cuts no ice with a paranoid CCP that detects foreign subversion all around.
This is not the first time Beijing has managed expectations about democratic development in the Big Lychee. On this occasion, it will likely undermine potential popular support for some forthcoming pro-dem activities.
Last month, law professor Benny Tai proposed a carefully planned ‘Occupy Central’ sit-in for July 2014, drawing on the principles of civil disobedience. There would have been something eloquent and inspiring about 10,000 people peacefully and willingly putting their own liberty at risk for the cause of universal suffrage. Citing Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, participants could expect broad support in the community – especially if Chief Executive CY Leung hadn’t solved his trust and effectiveness problems. The local and national authorities would cringe under the international attention. The one-party state would not collapse, but as we have seen with Article 23 and National Education, Beijing can be induced to blink first. The exercise could at least prompt a much firmer commitment to a semi-democratic poll in 2017 and possibly even help produce a slightly more open system.
Now that’s probably not going to happen. The Democratic Party’s excitable lawmaker Albert Ho and other impetuous, hyperactive and self-indulgent pro-dems will want to push ahead with an ‘Occupy Central’ of their own this year. Unlike Benny Tai, they will not conceive and design it to produce a specific outcome. They will drag other demands, from ‘CY Leung stand down’ to ‘universal pension’ to ‘free Liu Xiaobo’ into the protest. They will leave the public bemused, if not irritated, at the traffic jams and extra policing costs.
Albert Ho is also thinking of standing down as an at-large democratically elected lawmaker in order to trigger a by-election that would serve as a de-facto referendum on democracy. Last time the Civic Party tried to pull this potentially effective but easily wasted stunt, the DP refused to go along. The pro-Beijing camp undermined it by refusing to run any candidates, and the result was an embarrassingly low turn-out and charges of wasting taxpayers’ money. Ho is also proclaiming how willing he is to be jailed and/or lose his right to practice law. He would be better off storing his ego wherever he keeps his charisma.
A rigged preliminary quasi-election poses an interesting possible challenge. What if, say, CY Leung wants to get on the ballot in 2017, and has a feeble 20% opinion poll rating, and another pro-Beijing figure like Tsang Yok-sing also declares an interest and similarly has only a 20% rating – and a pro-dem figure comes forward with 50% in the opinion polls? How does the process and subsequent Chief Executive have any integrity when the rigged Primary Election Committee ‘votes’ to put only Leung and Tsang on the ballot? Thanks to the pro-democrats, Beijing doesn’t have to worry about this problem.