HK political reform: Something is happening

At the beginning of last week, Chief Executive CY Leung waved aside calls for a public consultation on political reform in the near term, saying the government had more pressing livelihood issues to tackle. Days later, Executive Council member Fanny Law claimed consultations were underway ‘behind the scenes’. A Chinese government mouthpiece went nuts over an Apple Daily report that Beijing has decided to push ahead on reform. Several establishment figures – including Law – have come forward to dismiss pro-democrats’ proposed methods of nominating candidates for a universal-suffrage CE race in 2017. (Background here, here, etc.) Something is up.

Everything will hinge on the nomination issue, yet no-one will speak the truth about it. No-one, on either the pro-Beijing or pro-democracy side, will openly admit that China is a one-party state; that the Communist Party cannot accommodate a rival for power; that Beijing must therefore retain some sort of screening process to ensure that Hong Kong cannot elect an anti-CCP leader.

No-one will openly admit that the wording of the Basic Law’s Article 45

The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.

…is deliberately designed to accommodate – indeed, require – a mechanism to filter out unacceptable candidates. It is touching but unfortunate that Beijing is too embarrassed to be honest about this; instead, it has to construct a mechanism that can be portrayed as not rigged.

The phrase ‘broadly representative’ exists to allow for a packed nominating body (as with the current rubber-stamp Election Committee). Beijing starts with a core of obedient and devout people from pro-communist community and other groups. To provide breadth and depth, it adds people from commercial and other vested interests that are not automatically loyal but are beholden. For a badly needed dash of credibility, it inserts some legislators and others who genuinely represent the public – but in numbers too small to make a difference.

Everyone seems to be in denial about the real reason for this system. The hardcore pro-communist faithful presumably accept it as unquestionable. It is quite possible that the property cartel-tycoon clique genuinely believe the system gives them privileges because it is in the economy’s interests, or because they are swell guys who deserve it, rather than to buy their loyalty. Intelligent people from disinterested backgrounds, like former civil servant Fanny Law, presumably can’t or won’t be honest for fear that it would cost them their position among Beijing’s favoured elite.

The pro-democrats won’t be open about the true purpose of the current structure because they prefer to live in a fantasy land. Their demand for a wide-open nomination process is more than a bargaining tactic; it is idealism. Sadly, it is also obtuse. Beijing relies on the tycoons out of necessity rather than affection.  A public acknowledgement of the Communist Party’s bottom line by the pro-dems would pave the way to stripping the parasitical local elites and vested interests out of the screening mechanism. To be sure, the remaining filtering process would still be anti-dems; it’s a question of whose interests they feel should come first: theirs or Hong Kong’s. But they are keener on process than outcomes, and probably far more comfortable fighting for an unattainable noble principle than pondering messy realistic details.

Self-appointed experts calling themselves the Basic Law Institute now weigh in with a counter-proposal. It looks like a slightly less-cautious version of past pseudo-reform packages – increasing the ratio of democratically elected members on the nomination body, while re-jigging some other elements to make them less ludicrous (eg, fewer seats for the agriculture sector, more for ‘youth’ and ‘women’). It will, of course, change nothing – hence the Institute’s use of the phrase ‘gradual and orderly’. Depressingly, the Institute also dredges up another old friend, ‘balanced participation’, which is essentially a code for putting tycoons’ interests before those of the overall society and economy. And this sort of bullshit will continue until someone stands up in public and admits that the nomination system – and universal suffrage generally in Hong Kong – must be unable to potentially produce a challenge to the Communist Party’s monopoly of power.

The Basic Law Institute is possibly kidding itself to some extent. Whatever happens, incremental non-change isn’t going to cut it anymore. It may not quite be irresistible-force-versus-immovable-object, but in the background is the clearly perceived threat to authority that is Occupy Central.

While we’re waiting for that, how about Occupy Fanling? Yesterday’s South China Morning Post quoted a tragic golf-freak as saying he couldn’t be sure he could live in Hong Kong without the HK Golf Club’s sprawling real estate in the New Territories.

At a protest yesterday calling for the golf course to be used for housing, ‘Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung criticized the idea that villagers can be evicted while golfers are left untouched.’ It is a compelling argument – but I think I might have an elegant riposte. First, the SCMP should invite the aforementioned golf-freak back for another of its Q&A sessions with him. It should ask the question: would you be prepared to swap homes with a family currently living in a 100-sq ft rat-infested subdivided flat in Shamshuipo? And he would reply: yes. Simple.   


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14 Responses to HK political reform: Something is happening

  1. reductio says:


    I don’t know how you can find the power to live each day knowing that what you hold dearest could all be taken away in a flash. You are an inspiration to us. Be strong man. Don’t leave Hong Kong, please !

  2. colonelkurtz says:

    Maybe the new land fills and garbage incininerator could be put on the Deep Water Bay golf course.

    However, Dominique need not fear. If the govt reclaims Fanling golf course, no wonder they’ll find a pressing public interest case (to be Asia’s golf-hub) to reclaim the harbour to build a new one.

  3. PropertyDeveloper says:

    You may easily be right about the meaning of Article 45, but then again you may be pushing the envelope a little too far. It’s true that “nomination” in Chinese political culture is much more than a mere formality. Also, plenty of other countries manage without “human intervention” ie they have automatic procedures to sift out the unelectable, so the presence of a committe may be significant.

    But, like many other clauses in the Basic Law, you can almost see the opposing mechanisms of the drafters at work. “Nominating” and “democratic” are mostly incompatible principles. There are plenty of contradictions in most constitutions, and ours may be less consistent than many. In interpreting such apparently conflicting ideas, you have to strike a balance, avoid coming down too heavily on one side or the other, steer a cautious median course.

    In sum, while everything you say about Peking’s pigheadedness is true, I don’t think you can really comment on the tactics and strategy of the pan-democrats, nor in particular give up any notion of a fair contest — unless you come out unequivocally in support of them, in which case your viewpoint becomes constructive or at least friendly criticism.

    Certainly, at such an important juncture, with so few trump-cards to play, and while they still occupy the high moral ground, the PDs should use every trick in the book. Only someone unversed in practical politics in an authoritarian dictatorship would suggest that they should meekly follow moral or legal rules that they had very little hand in drawing up.

  4. Real Tax Payer (ret'd) says:

    If nothing else this is Progress with a capital ‘P’

    On the one hand it seems we are about to lose golfers with fancy French-sounding names like Dominque and Boulet who will voluntarily leave our beloved Asia’s world city. (“Who let the Frogs Out?” )

    On the other hand the People’s Daily is starting to learn vernacular English at last because the ‘going nuts’ article claims that :

    “… Apple Daily’s owner doesn’t give a flying rat’s fart about journalistic ethics and professionalism”.

    I’m loving it !

  5. Stephen says:

    When you have previously allowed 3 candidates to stand in 1997, 1 in 2002, and 2 in both 2007 and 2012, the latter two featuring a candidate from the Pro-Dems, how can you screen them out completely in 2017?

    You can, but the electoral turnout rate in 2017 will be around 20%, and everyone here will conclude it’s an utter farce and we will be left with another inept Government. Meanwhile the International community will conclude that these are not free and fair elections so no trips to the White House.

    Occupy Central is indeed going to be interesting unless a moderate Pro-Dem is allowed to stand and who in all likelihood, this time, will win.

  6. FOARP says:

    @Stephen – Yeah, but those guys had no chance of winning. BASIC LAW! BASIC LAW!

  7. Joe Blow says:

    Eureka ! (sometimes I am such a f*cking genius)

    Build a new golf course on the ‘loop’ at the Shenzhen border that nobody knows what to do with.

  8. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Stephen, I do hope you’re right. And Peking must think the PDs have a good chance in 2017 — otherwise why all the bother? Maybe previously they calculated that by 2022, with all the new mainland voters, and — in their limited, parochial mindset — increasing weariness at the whole question of democracy, they could allow a smidgen of autonomy.

    But they miscalculated by nominating a succession of buffoons as CE, with CY’s problems just beginning. I still think the whole question is finely balanced — that if they had appointed someone in the middle with more political nous, say Anson, they might won over the HK electorate, who are notoriously fickle.

  9. China’s position is based on fear that the Hong Kong electorate, left to their own devices, are likely to elect a candidate perceived as anti-China from the banana-throwing bunch. I personally think the Hong Kong electorate are smarter than that. They may vote for the likes of Long Hair in protest against the lack of real democracy now, but given a genuine free choice of CE, will go for someone who can work with (but not be too subservient to) Beijing.

  10. Real Scot Player says:

    I love how old colonials use ” Peking” as code.

  11. probably says:

    HK potentially losing both a golf bore and a frenchie to boot? Now that’s what I call a win-win scenario.

  12. PCC says:

    I know Dom Boulet. Dom Boulet is a friend of mine. You, Senator, are no Dom Boulet.

  13. Gweiloeye says:

    I note another golf bore in the letters page today:

    “As the club’s web site shows, visitors are welcome from Monday to Friday”

    Other than the obvious fact that most people actually have jobs during the week, he “accidently” forgot to mention the cost of such visit:
    HKD2000 ++ for one round (don’t forget your compulsory caddie HKD 290, plus HKD30 food allowance). Yes we all can afford that. There is heaps more in the letter I could take the piss out of but I have to leave work early and play a round of golf (discount after 3.00pm)/sarc/.

    Do these people know how pompous and detached from reality they sound when they write these letters or get interviewed.

    Got a new suggestion for them instead of massive apartment blocks we let them have a single 18 course, then build a couple of hundred 3000-4000 sqaure feet luxury villas in a gated community (to keep the great unwashed out of course) on the remaining land.
    Bet you that would be agreed within minutes of being tabled.

  14. Taiming says:


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