Hong Kong has no shortage of proposals for political reform in 2016/17. The problem is that they all come from various elements of the broad pro-democracy camp. Pro-Beijing groups report that they are still studying options or working on their contributions to the public consultation exercise. In other words, they are waiting to be told what to say.
Now, along comes the Silent (since around November) Majority for Hong Kong. The little band stands out mainly for what it isn’t: it’s not part of the classic patriotic Communist loyalist grassroots milieu, nor is it really part of the shoe-shining tycoon-bureaucrat establishment. It comprises broadcaster Robert Chow and a handful of other senior, vaguely conservative, academic/media figures who have thrown their lot in with the United Front simply because they’re not part of the pro-democrats, so where else can they go?
They were last heard of (so far as we recall) proposing compulsory voting. They have been cast as the slightly maverick face of the pro-Beijing crowd, and so they are playing in character in presenting a totally open and fair screening-out system for nominating candidates for the Chief Executive election. Under this proposal it would take just 30 (or 30 to 80) endorsements from the (say) 1,200-strong Nominations Committee to put a name on an initial list of potential candidates; the Committee would then as a whole select three of these to appear on the actual ballot. Thus pro-democrats or other misfits and undesirables would be able to pass through a make-believe nomination stage before the inevitable filtering-out.
A mentally deficient child might briefly accept this as somehow more open than a single-step screening-out process, but most observers will just instantly shrug and ask what the point is. It does raise a possible problem, in that the 80 token pro-democrats allowed into the 1,200-strong body could pre-nominate someone who then gets a 60% public-approval rating before being vetoed by the whole Committee – much to the detriment of the eventual winner’s credibility.
Robert Chow emphasizes the other part of his proposal: a cap of three candidates on the final ballot. Even the US and the UK have only two horses in their races, he says, so screening out all but three must be better. This silliness is presumably a way to sound different from the tedious government/Beijing line that proposals must be in line with the Basic Law blah blah blah, which itself is a laborious way to avoid spelling out the truth that the Communist one-party system cannot accommodate pluralist loopholes like a non-rigged nomination system ahead of an election by universal suffrage. The distortion and obfuscation and mendacity we have to go through to avoid acknowledging this simple unmentionable is a threat to sanity.
The Silent Majority was originally founded in August to oppose Occupy Central. It’s hard not to notice what is happening in Bangkok right now, where anti-government protestors are bringing the business district to a standstill. However, the parallels are inexact, to put it mildly.
While Hong Kong’s Occupy Central will aim to end appointed unrepresentative government in favour of a democratic one, the Bangkok protestors want to kick out a popularly elected administration and install a committee of the self-selected elite. While Hong Kong’s occupiers will broadly be in favour of a more open and fair economic system, their Thai counterparts essentially want an end to policies that redistribute wealth from the rich and middle class city to the poor rural north. While Occupy Central is funded by students’ donations or the CIA, according to taste, the Thai mob is subsidized generously by the sort of people who, in Hong Kong, would represent the Liberal Party/tycoon/bureaucrat faction.
The anti-government Thais react bitterly to this analysis, which they see all the time in the Western media. They point to the extreme corruption of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his surrogate and sister Yingluck. If you point out that it’s just sour grapes because ‘their’ no-less corrupt choice of leaders can’t win a democratic election, you get a frustrated lecture on how you don’t understand the culture.
A draft paper (maybe available sometime here) by veteran commentator Jeffrey Race clarifies by referring to Theravada Buddhist concepts like the Middle Way. Traditional Thai elite regimes from the 60s onwards have been moderately corrupt for a while before passing power over to another. Thaksin disturbed this order by implanting his much deeper cronyist system on a permanent basis. Now a fugitive running the country from afar, he has made himself culturally alien.
Other observers introduce even more complications. By doing all this via populist democracy, Thaksin shows additional, extreme disrespect, since being nice to and popular among the poor is the King’s job. The split between northerners and southerners is not just economic but cultural, with the northerners (and adjoining cross-border communities in places like Burma) speaking a distinct dialect. And we could ask how many of these rival elites and behind-the-scenes puppet-masters are ethnic Chinese – but let’s not even go there.
How much nicer and simpler life is with Occupy Central and the Silent Majority for Hong Kong.