The political reform ritual continues

What with all the freaking out over Occupy Central, that civil referendum tinged with mincing ludicrousness, Legislative Council filibusters, the July 1 march, traitors plotting police mutinies and all Hong Kong’s other political raucousness, it’s easy to forget that we are in the middle of a highly structured and tightly scripted ritual.

Late last year, the government launched a five-month public consultation on the theme of ‘Let’s Talk and Achieve a Happy Smiling Harmonious Community Consensus on Universal Suffrage!!!’ (Like cooking a feastin a way!) Most Hong Kong consultation exercises are designed to produce a pre-ordained outcome: either the bureaucrats’ favoured policy or a ‘lack of consensus’ that neatly allows officials to do nothing. In this case, the process must ultimately lead to a specific result already decreed by Beijing, so the supposed deliberations are even more of a farce than usual.

Obviously, the 130,000 responses the government has received will carry no weight. Officials must nonetheless go through the motions of a consultation and produce a report on what the public thinks. That will happen today. At the same time, the government is sending a report to the Standing Committee of the (rubber-stamp) National People’s Congress; in theory this report will vaguely recommend reforms for the 2016-17 election, but in fact it will already have been cleared with – indeed dictated by – Beijing.

The charade continues next month when Beijing’s puppet legislative body hands down a decision – arrived at long ago, of course – on what reforms we can have. And, of course, what we can’t have: an open nomination system for Chief Executive candidates. At this point, Occupy Central will in all likelihood do its big sit-down-in-the-street thing. Assuming civilization survives, the government will come up with detailed proposals later this year, leading to more outrage about the lack of open nominations. Next year, the administration will submit a package to the Legislative Council, which will no doubt prompt yet more nomination uproar. ‘Once the package has cleared LegCo’, as China Daily blithely puts it, the ritual concludes with two final symbolic steps, with our local minion Chief Executive and then the imperial court in Beijing signing off on the reformed electoral system.

But will it actually get through LegCo? Thanks to an amusing constitutional quirk designed to give Beijing veto power in our local legislature, pro-democrat lawmakers will have enough votes to kill the reform package. They threaten to do so if the CE nomination system is rigged. Since we can guarantee that it will indeed be rigged – barring the downfall of the Communist one-party state in China – the moderates among them will presumably buckle, and be burnt in effigy by the radicals.

They won’t veto, because when a Communist dictatorship offers you a crappy half-democratic election, you take it. That is what the Hong Kong government’s irritating blather late last year was trying to say. The truth about the nature of a one-party system cannot be spoken. Officials can only parrot the coded Beijing-speak about reform having to conform to the Basic Law. So in a desperate attempt to get the message across without actually saying it, our bureaucrats resorted to slogans like ‘We can vote!’ and ‘Let’s Seize the Opportunity!’ ‘A kleptocratic Leninist thug-state that couldn’t care less is giving you a glass that’s half full!’

Meanwhile, no-one is making a fuss about the composition of functional constituencies in the 2016 LegCo election, as it’s less sexy than public nomination, and demanding the unattainable is much more fun isn’t it? That may prove to be a pity.


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