Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony has the subtitle A Soviet Artist’s Response to Just Criticism because the work was supposed to atone for his misdeeds – producing imaginative and un-socialist music that displeased Stalin, who at that time in the late 1930s was sending millions of people to gulags or firing squads. Martin Lee, the elder statesman of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, could probably sympathize.
In an effort to make a constructive contribution to the debate on the 2017 Chief Executive election arrangements, the old guy suggested that a nominating body modeled on today’s Election Committee could be acceptable provided it produced a ballot with at least five names on it. This number, he reasoned, would be sufficient to ensure a pro-dem could run, in line with the last two quasi-elections.
For breaking ranks, Lee was roundly attacked by other pan-dems, whose stance is that only pure universal suffrage is acceptable. So now he has apologized. The damage, however, has been done: the pro-dems have unwittingly revealed – or unwillingly acquired – a bottom line.
Presumably, Lee was trying to forestall a more tightly controlled system, such as one that results in a choice of just two pro-Beijing candidates. His proposal is, if anything, probably more liberal than the Chinese government is willing to allow when Hong Kong gets a universal vote. Although Beijing can always refuse to confirm a Chief Executive election winner, Chinese officials are clearly unnerved at the thought that the ballot could even include a CIA-backed stooge plotting to overthrow the Communist Party. And no, the fact that Hongkongers wouldn’t vote for such a person won’t wash (why do you so badly want one on the ballot, then?).
Pro-Beijing commentators loudly welcomed Lee’s remarks as pragmatic and constructive, and are relishing the opposition’s discomfort. The big buzzword in United Front circles right now is ‘compromise’, and poor old Martin – who always did have a charming naivety about him – has duly delivered.
Maybe this is what happens when you reach a certain age. The pro-democrats’ struggle has become all-consuming over the years as the inescapable truth of the nature of one-party rule has dawned on them. If you can’t have full democracy, you can at least wallow in a never-ending righteous battle for it. They are in their element right now, planning a trendy and noble campaign of protest of which Martin Luther King would be proud. Lee – too old for sit-ins these days – suggests a quick and simple alternative. Easier, and leading to the same inevitable outcome in practical, albeit not theoretical, terms. But of course less fun, less glorious.
The weekend is declared open with the thought that ‘Martin Lee’ is an anagram of ‘Lame Inert’ and a hard look at the ad on the back page of today’s Standard. It shows some sort of gender-confused, colour-blind psychopath who, ever since his lobotomy, mixes striped ties with checked shirts and forgets to finish dressing in the morning, and you too can look like him if you shop at Brooks Brothers…