Hong Kong 2020, the extreme-moderate wing of the Big Lychee’s pro-democracy movement, releases its highly sensible proposals for political reform. To give an idea of how ever-so reasonable the group is being, it suggests that the current five multi-member geographical constituencies be split into eight smaller-but-not-too-small ones. A wacky radical with mad staring eyes would call for a return to single-member constituencies and manly, no-messing-around first-past-the-post elections (the pre-1997 approach that enabled pro-democrats to win the majority of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council).
What everyone is really interested in is the nomination of candidates for the 2017 Chief Executive election. Ex-Chief Secretary Anson Chan’s little band of realists have parted ways with most pan-dems and not bothered demanding an open system allowing anyone with enough public support to end up on the ballot. Instead, they accept that many years ago, well before the handover, Chinese officials were anticipating a time when Hong Kong might have to be given universal suffrage, and they wrote a ‘broadly representative’ (Communist-speak for ‘easily rigged’) nominating committee into Article 45 of the Basic Law.
The Standard gleefully reports that the public don’t come into Dame Conscience’s plan, and the South China Morning Post quotes one leading pro-Beijing figure as approving this move ‘nearer’ to the Basic Law. Many pro-democrats, on the other hand, will denounce this idea as a sellout. Even so, the proposal stands no chance of being accepted: it would require only 10% of the nominating committee members’ backing to get someone on the ballot. For the sake of form, a larger minority of the committee’s members – say 20% – need to be from outside the pro-Beijing orbit. But with a one-party state to maintain, the Chinese government must have total control over who gets on the ballot. The final system will have to ensure this; for example, committee members might have several votes each, and all candidates will have to be endorsed by a majority.
The one uncertainty is whether Beijing and its local minions can impose such a rigged structure without looking and sounding ridiculous. To give us an idea of how absurd they will appear, Beijing official Li Fei declares that the internationally recognized right to be elected does not equate to a right to be nominated. (To gauge the cultural gap we face here, consider how many of these articles the Chinese government implements in practice.) Local self-styled expert on the Basic Law Alan Hoo – the fiend who kicked his poor old mother out to starve in the wind and rain – backs Li’s assertion. In essence, he says that a system that bars certain potential candidates from taking part in an election doesn’t affect their right to take part in the election. As the caterpillar might have said to Alice.
The mainstream pro-democrats’ demand for open nomination – which, typically, they have to present as a confusing ‘three-pronged’ mess – is easy enough for Beijing and local officials to reject as contrary to Article 45. Hong Kong 2020’s proposal will at least make them squirm a bit. I declare the weekend open with the slightly satisfying thought that some laughably bad and desperate arguments lie ahead.