A modest suggestion, to put it mildly

After all the defiance, euphoria, bitterness and recriminations surrounding Hong Kong’s Umbrella-Occupy revolt, it’s hard to imagine everyone getting back to the SCMP-BallotBlockstiny details of electoral reform as if nothing had happened. But Carine Lai, manager at think tank Civic Exchange, evidently feels up to it, outlining a suggestion on corporate voting in today’s South China Morning Post. Civic Exchange having a reputation for being a real think tank rather than a front for pro-Beijing propaganda, we will pay some attention.

First, some background.

Anyone following Time, Guardian, Vice, NYT, FT and other overseas coverage of Hong Kong in the last eight weeks will have noticed the foreign media’s difficulties in understanding our election system, especially the Functional Constituencies that have so many seats in the legislature, on the Chief Executive Election Committee and on the proposed Nomination Committee. This is hardly surprising: the system is designed to be as bewildering as possible. This is to hide its true purpose, and it works.

Chinese officials and apologists claim this byzantine structure, with its underlying layers of fisheries associations, Chinese medicine organizations, neighbourhood aid societies and weird cultural groups, guarantees all sectors a say. They call it ‘balanced representation’ or something similar. The overseas – and much local – press see through this garbage. They declare that the whole framework is designed to give undue influence and power to pro-Beijing interest groups, especially the tycoons, and they congratulate themselves on their insight. But actually they are wrong.

Forget the stuff about how Mussolini used functional constituencies. Forget the fact that the British introduced the first ones in Hong Kong as a tentative 1980s step towards representative government. And forget the myth perpetuated by most of the press that these privileged elites get to choose the Chief Executive (and forget the fact that many of these ‘elites’ themselves tend to believe it). The Functional Constituency system is simply about stuffing a supposed electoral body with enough puppets that it can serve as a rubber stamp.

If Beijing wants to veto a vote in the Legislative Council, it phones dependable, loyal FC lawmakers, and a bill or motion gets voted down. The outcome of the Chief Executive ‘election’ is similarly decided beforehand in Beijing, with the word going out telling obedient Election Committee members how to cast their votes. (Even if the tycoons vote for someone else. We saw this in 2012, when a large swathe of EC members – patriotic DAB leftists and subservient fisheries and Chinese medicine morons – insisted they were still ‘deciding’ between Henry Tang and CY Leung up to the last minute.)

The servile dummies get a pat on their head for their loyalty; their ‘sectors’ might get a free lunch, like the sports associations with their new stadium, but otherwise they are just useful fools. Note that the property tycoons prosper merrily regardless of the fact that they voted for the ‘wrong’ guy in Henry Tang. When ‘electing’ the Chief Executive, Functional Constituencies as a mass do not bring or wield any power of their own: they simply exist to disguise direct Beijing control.

Civic Exchange’s Carine Lai proposes the abolition of corporate votes – non-human voters that make up the electorate in some (mostly small, mostly commercial) Functional Constituencies. This is the most blatantly rotten part of the system; she gives the example of conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, which is said to have 36 votes via various subsidiaries. She also points out how the associations and groups that serve as non-human electors gain their FC franchise either through selection by officials or by their peers or even themselves (with guidance from Beijing, of course).

Replacing corporate votes with humans would widen some tightly restricted franchises slightly. Rather than one Chairman having 36 votes, a bunch of directors and others would get a vote each. This could in theory introduce a little more competition into the small-circle business FCs like banking and the chambers of commerce. The ‘losers’ would be tycoons with multiple votes, who could lose a bit of clout when it comes to picking (or leaning on) legislators, and maybe a bit of face.

SCMP-BallotBlocks2

Other than that, such a reform achieves nothing very meaningful in practical terms, though you could say it’s a step forward symbolically. The FCs as a whole would go on feeding reliable automatons into the CE Election Committee and (if it happens) the Nomination Committee picking the CE candidates in 2017. And this has to be the case, because in a Communist state, the ruling party must maintain its monopoly of power and absolute control. That’s the bottom line: the FCs as a bloc do not have power or represent power, they – or at least the plurality of them that are puppets – simply channel it.

The think tank’s founder Christine Loh is Environment Under-Secretary in the current much-loathed government, and is usually seen as a potential Chief Executive if Beijing decides to take a wild risk and let Hong Kong have a leader with a brain of her own. So the researchers may prefer to err on the constructive rather than radical side. But, even so, we can declare the weekend open with this thought: it says something about the shifts and splits in public sentiment following Occupy that good old Civic Exchange now comes across as a rather lonely-sounding voice of moderation and reason.

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16 Responses to A modest suggestion, to put it mildly

  1. Real Tax Payer says:

    Highly cynical but – as always – highly accurate

  2. Stephen says:

    “If the government wishes to secure the support of some pan-democratic legislators for its constitutional reform package, it should abolish corporate voting completely. The democrats and the protesters on the street, for their part, should take such a proposal seriously. While it falls short of what they want, it would go a long way towards making Hong Kong’s elections more open and competitive”

    Sorry Carine I disagree. Firstly it going to take a lot more than this, especially since occupy, to get the four or so Pro-Dem legislators the government needs to get its “reform” passed.

    Secondly so in theory Li Ka Shing doesn’t get thirty six votes he get one and the Directors across his empire get one as well. Do you think they will vote any differently from the good Mr. Li? This will be repeated across the whole sorry lot of them.

    At the moment they want a run off between Antony Leung and a DAB worthy (probably Starry). Fine, do it through the election committee so when Antony wins he cannot claim to have a mandate and will surely fuck up – the man has history.

    Then someone might finally realise that the answer could be similiar to what Chris Patten put in place nearly 20 years ago – you work in that FC – you have a vote in that FC including voting for the Nominating Commitee representatives.

  3. Knownot says:

    nulle asked this morning: to everyone, is it me or someone is doing a DOS against Hemlock since I am consistently getting “http 500 internal server error” posting comments…

    Me too, or something similar, trying to reach the site in the evening. And just now, making my first attempt to post this comment.

  4. C.Law says:

    Me, too. But it worked OK after two refreshes.

    Spot on again, Hemmers

  5. reductio says:

    BALLOT BLOCKS = BOLLOCK BLAST

    Apt.

  6. PD says:

    RTP, For me, Hemlock is far from cynical enough. It’s like the yuan liberalisation: it’s so gradual and so disorderly — just 3 more years, then just 3 more, then… — that it’s evidently not going to reach a reasonable level in my lifetime.

    In other words — and on this issue Hemlock has always been spot on — the CCP is never going to allow any significant degree of democracy here. So slightly decreasing the number of rotten boroughs is just shuffling the deckchairs round.

    It’s much too late for Peking to be making cosmetic concessions. By taking such piddling changes seriously, one just gives face to the forces of darkness. It’s also atrocious negotiating tactics not only to allow them to set the agenda but to take the slightest notice of anything they say.

  7. Nulle says:

    Hemmets, u maybe under ccp DoS attack since I am having hard time accessing your blog, aboutas bad for posting comments. Takes 5-10 attempts to either access or comment. “http 500 error internal prgm error” frequency increase dramaticly within last 96 hours. Doesn’t matter which time of day

    Please chk your ip or vectors to see if someone is DoS or hacking your sites trying to come after us, given how critical we are…

  8. henry says:

    Surely you jest. Christine as CE ? LOL, not at the idea, but the idea that those bloodless old geriatric vipers would countenance it for an instant. Mind you, she’s lost her feistiness since assuming the responsibilities of office. A great pity.

  9. PCC says:

    My quibble: Why is everyone allowed to get away with referring to the Chinese Communist Party as “Beijing” rather than calling the animal by its true name?

    In normal countries, the actual person or governing body is referred to by name or at least shorthand for the actual office or institution involved: Prime Minister Cameron or “Downing Street”; Parliament or “Westminster”; House Speaker Boehner or “Congress” or “Capitol Hill”; President Obama or “The White House” in reference to the executive branch.

    Why do these authoritarian pricks get off so easily with the meaningless moniker of “Beijing”? Is it because “Beijing” captures perfectly the fact that China is run by an amorphous band of unaccountable and menacing gangsters operating in an environment in which there are no recognisable governmental institutions apart from the mailed fist?

    Oops. I answered by own question.

  10. Joe Blow says:

    …Christine Loh is Environment Under-Secretary in the current much-loathed government, and is usually seen as a potential Chief Executive ……a leader with a brain of her own….

    You must be JOKING !!

    The bitch has lost ALL credibility. First by betraying the Umbrella Revolution and secondly by not speaking out once. Or simply by serving The Liar ( @ 200 k per month)

    What brain does she have, making a critical judgment mistake like that ?

  11. Scotty Dotty says:

    Spot on today from Hemmers. Invariably among the best posters on Hong Kong.

    Agree with the posters above here – the Big Lychee blog is getting targeted by Beijing’s IT flunkies and morons. You can still post but they’re trying to make it difficult. Happening all over the web.

  12. C.Law says:

    Joe Blow: you do not enhance your arguments with the use of gratuitous insults, if you have a valid point then express it in reasonable terms – reasonable people (such as the esteemed readers of this blog) will then consider it and respond in kind.

  13. delboy says:

    Yes, I’m appalled that Lo has said nothing in support of the students and the democracy movement. When she took the job I presumed she thought she could change the civil servant mindset from within, but it looks like she only did it for the money. And to think I once hawked her election pamphlets around happy valley for her.

  14. Bwaic says:

    The fcs don’t necessarily vote as a bloc. A few (Like Charles Mok of IT) hardly ever vote with the establishment.

  15. nulle says:

    Aussies are wetting their pants today as city of Brisbane bans HK student protesters from Brisbane central business district. Aussies cower back to their holes as Aussie doesn’t want to piss off their Chinese sugar-daddy…

    http://t.co/9xkv8qEbBE

    What’s next? the British piss their pants and cower in their pubs denying the British ever signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in fear of pissing off their sugar-momma…

  16. Joe Blow says:

    @ C. Law: I express myself as I like. There is already enough self-censorship as it is.

    And you don’t have to respond to my posts at all.

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