Brought to you by people who dismissed the ‘civic referendum’ of 800,000 votes as worse than worthless as a gauge of public opinion: a declaration that ‘mainstream opinion’ in Hong Kong opposes public nomination of candidates for the 2017 Chief Executive election.
It’s at times like this that you need a sense of humour. The Hong Kong government issues a report on public views on 2016-2017 election arrangements and another formally asking Beijing for permission to proceed with political reform. Both are blatantly drafted to fit in with the Chinese government’s plan to solve Hong Kong’s perpetual post-1997 governance crisis by granting the city a more representative administration while keeping it under complete ultimate control of the Communist one-party system. For the sake of Beijing’s amour-propre, the process must appear to be initiated by Hong Kong’s government (which has to pretend to take public opinion into account), steered by a group of China’s legislators, passed through the city’s legislature, authorized by the city’s top leader and finally approved by China’s legislature. In fact, the only part of the procedure not scripted by the Chinese government is the bit where the proposed plan goes through the Hong Kong Legislative Council, where, thanks to a system designed to help Beijing rig votes, directly elected lawmakers can manage a veto.
At least some of Hong Kong’s pro-democrats seem to swallow this charade and believe the outcome is not pre-ordained and could still result in some form of public nomination. Others probably get the reality of being ultimately subject to a Leninist-style structure but will fight the inevitable anyway on principle or out of habit. If there is a ‘mainstream opinion’ I would guess it is one of resignation so long as core values like rule of law are intact, but no-one has bothered to find out – after all, what’s the point?
The instinct of level-headed pro-democrats will be to keep calm and be prepared to use their only weapons – Occupy Central and the Legco veto – to optimum effect, for what that’s worth. But the hot-headed youngsters and radicals will be itching for instant, high-profile civil disobedience. If Beijing finesses its bludgeoning, it could drive a wedge between the two factions and marginalize the militants. Our local bureaucrats have a better feel for that sort of thing; ironically, their ability to manage and mollify public emotions will depend on how assertive they are towards the Beijing officials whose paranoia could still provoke a major protest in Central. (In theory, it should be possible to feel a twinge of sympathy for officials like Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Secretaries, who don’t especially seem to be enjoying their work at what boss CY Leung enthusiastically calls this ‘historic’ time. I said in theory.)
Not so much a factor as an interesting side-show will be the international media. Will they spot the charade, or report Hong Kong’s constitutional reform as a genuine yet-to-be-decided process? (They have never worked out that the current Election Committee is simply a rubber stamp, frequently reporting that the 1,200 members freely vote in the city’s leader.) Will the angle be that Hong Kong is being deprived of its rights to full democracy, or that China’s communist rulers are showing surprising enlightenment in letting a group of mere subjects make a free choice, albeit from a hand-picked slate? (Given that the nomination process will probably formally involve the current Election Committee, will they work out that the 1,200 will again be playing a purely symbolic make-believe role?) As experts in finger-on-pulse matters, will they perhaps manage to identify that elusive ‘mainstream opinion’?