It looks a bit me-too, but presumably it’s the result of meticulous coordination: following the lunch at which Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislators were able to meet Chinese government representatives, Chief Executive CY Leung invites various relatively tame and/or cerebral pro-democrats to a dinner next month.
Inevitably, the choice of who is invited – or, more accurately, who is not invited – attracts much comment. If some of the muttering seems reminiscent of teenage girls sniping and eye-scratching over who’s best friends with the prom queen, that’s because it is, and because that’s how someone wants it. This is ultimately about exploring possible ways to one day redefine the far outer boundaries of the United Front.
The event will take place in the stilted environs of the Hong Kong Club, home of some of the city’s least-amazing food. The idea, presumably, is to make sure attendees are un-relaxed, tense and focused on and unable to misunderstand what they are likely to hear: a reiteration of the Chinese Communist Party’s bottom line that universal suffrage in the Big Lychee must accommodate its monopoly of power.
As if on cue, the Alliance for True Democracy demands the abolition of all Functional Constituency seats in the Legislative Council in the 2016 election – or, failing that, in 2020. In protest against such feeble negotiating tactics, People Power, perhaps emboldened by new chairman ex-Miss HK contender Erica Yuen, threatens to walk out of the group.
Functional Constituencies are to Legco what the screening/nomination system is to the Chief Executive: a way for Beijing to ensure it retains ultimate control. And, like the screening/nomination system, no-one will come clean and openly admit it; indeed, many players across the political spectrum seem completely oblivious to it.
The Big Lie – swallowed whole by the Alliance and much of the media, and warmly encouraged by vested interests – is that FCs are going to be difficult to remove or replace, because they will have to vote themselves out of existence a la turkeys-for-Christmas. This is total garbage. Despite appearances, FCs do not exist to give pro-Beijing bankers, industrialists and others legislative influence. Their sole post-1997 raison d’etre is to wield a Beijing-directed veto in Legco if it is ever necessary (their ability to corrupt our lawmaking is a fortunate and jealously guarded bonus for them). If or when the Liaison Office phones them and tells them to vote a particular way on a particular bill, they will do it. That includes a constitutional reform bill overhauling or even scrapping FCs.
This means that the current FCs will in fact be easy to scrap. But it also means something else has to be put in place to ensure the ultimate primacy of the one-party state. The pro-dems are 100% correct to argue that these self-serving, small-circle commercial franchises should no longer enjoy their rotten-borough representation in the legislature. But when the pro-dems demand a fully directly elected chamber, they are making the same error as when they demand free and open nomination for the CE race. The one-party state cannot allow even a weak legislative branch to potentially act as a rival source of power (the Communists’ incomprehension and fear of separation of powers is highly visible here). Beijing must have a built-in veto (as it does with the third branch, the courts, via ‘interpretation’ of the Basic Law).
The best deal the pro-dems will probably be able to get is to replace narrow and commercial FCs with broader economic, social or geographical groupings; stuffed with loyalists, these can then nominate candidates for whom the rest of us can vote in, say, a one-person-two-vote system. The bicameral system, by which FCs can wield a veto, will of course remain, to enable nervous CCP paranoids to sleep. The code for all this will be ‘balanced participation’.
The great irony is that the bicameral/veto arrangement works both ways, and it’s the pro-dems who can reject any constitutional reform package. We will be given the impression that the small-circle business-based FCs can choose to preserve themselves – but in reality it’s Legco’s pan-democrats who will be in a position to make that decision, if their determination to win full democracy leads them to it. Maybe CY Leung will spell all this out to the pro-dems at the Hong Kong Club dinner. The current FCs and their buddies will of course be more than happy if he doesn’t.