Judging by the number of people dragging wheeled suitcases down to the Airport Express station this morning, a quasi-four-day weekend lies ahead. What better way to take a rest after all the intensely emotional wrangling and grief over quasi-democracy?
Less than a week ago, the Chinese government announced its plan for political reforms in Hong Kong – notably a 2017 Chief Executive election in which Beijing decides the candidates, and the electorate as a whole votes to decide which one wins. Compared with the previous system, in which Beijing simply decides the winner in advance, there is obviously a progression from no choice to managed competition. I wouldn’t want to try to quantify it in terms of an improvement, but maybe it’s like going from 0% democratic to 25%.
Pro-democrats, who for years have had their hearts set on 100%, reacted not only with outrage but disbelief. Disbelief that a Communist Party – the monopoly holder of power in a totalitarian, Leninist system – would not allow a completely open and unrigged election. Disbelief that the UK and other overseas powers would not imperil economic and other relations with the People’s Republic of China over this city. Perhaps most painful of all, is the difficulty of accepting that the bulk of their fellow citizens might not completely share their astonishment or distress.
They are in denial, and to deal with it they plan to use their veto power in the Legislative Council to reject the proposal. Unless this would make Beijing fall to its knees and beg for forgiveness, it is hard to see how this achieves anything beyond basic gratification. Perhaps realizing this deep down, they have devised arguments for sticking with 0% rather than 25%, but their reasoning is more heartfelt than rational or convincing. Students, ever the ultimate idealists, believe they can topple the Communist dictatorship by cutting classes…
The fate of the 2017 election reforms will come down to public opinion. Albert Cheng – no stranger to hot-headedness – muses over some sort of referendum to work out what people will accept. While never a cohesive movement, the pro-dems will probably end up more divided than ever over how and whether to come to terms with reality; the feuding seems to have started already.
The pro-democrats’ implicit stance for a good couple of decades has been that the Communist regime in Beijing is at the end of the day reasonable and capable of pragmatism and flexibility; that Beijing respects laws and might keep its 1990s promises (if any) for eventual full democracy; that Beijing has a sense of morality and cares what the world might think about its treatment of Hong Kong. The bulk of Hong Kong people have surely never believed any such things, and the rest of the world has probably abandoned such hopes in the last few years, if not earlier.
Quite an irony… The pro-dems have had this touching faith in the Party’s essential goodness and humanity. In return, the Chinese government has treated them as hostile and foreign-backed, and thus as subversives to be crushed.