Beijing, an academic told the South China Morning Post over the weekend, “is telling Hong Kong [people] in 2014 who they will be voting for in 2017. The plot seems to have been written.” This followed National People’s Congress Deputy Rita Fan’s suggestion that a three-way Chief Executive race between incumbent CY Leung, ex-Financial Secretary Antony Leung and lawmaker Regina Ip would be ‘a choice’. The assumption is that Fan is passing on word from Chinese officialdom.
The cynical and devious among us will spy a classic bit of expectations-management. They will roll on the floor laughing for several minutes, then compose themselves and reckon that this is just a joke. After shocking the Hong Kong people with the prospect of a ballot comprising three tragically failed no-hoper has-beens, Beijing’s operatives will leak one or two less-ludicrous names into the gossip-and-rumours system. Relieved, the public will embrace the political reform package and we will get a guided, rigged version of universal suffrage with no further fuss. (What less-ludicrous names? You’ve got me there. But for the sake of argument, let’s just say.)
But maybe this isn’t a joke. Maybe they’re serious. Maybe this is guided democracy in action: CY Leung is toxic, and Regina forever tainted by Article 23, so we will naturally elect Antony Leung, just as Beijing had already decided.
There are a lot of snags here. Antony Leung, what with the Lexus hoo-hah and forgettable track record as Financial Secretary, is not dazzlingly inspiring. Regina, on the other hand, is high-profile and actually has a following (among what we might call the hard-working, lower-middle-class, not-too-questioning demographic, notably female, quite possibly the sort who beat their maids). If the pro-democrats got their act together and organized a plain, simple boycott of the quasi-election (rather than get bogged down in complicated parallel polls and squabbling), you could be looking at maybe a 40% election turnout; the result would be unpredictable, and any winner would have zero credibility.
Then there is the minor issue of getting the political reform package through the Legislative Council. After the last few months, it surely looks dead. The pro-democrats have the votes and fury to reject the bill. In theory, overwhelming public support for the reform could convince a handful not to veto. But that would take radical changes to the current package, which Beijing won’t – probably can’t – do. The default method of the 1,200-strong rubber-stamp Election Committee looks most likely, which means Antony Leung gets the job on a plate, or maybe Mr or Ms ‘Less-Ludicrous’ suddenly appears.
It is possible that Rita Fan was not reading from a prepared script, but genuinely speaking her mind. After all, everything these people say seems to sound like a mixture of illogical gibberish and stock phrases with no known meaning, so how can you tell? However, if you go back far enough (she was once a popular Legislative Council president), Rita has shown herself capable of rational expression. This suggests that all her utterances these days are designed to please Beijing in some way.
An extreme example of this transition from reason and sense to consistent loyalist doublespeak would be Regina Ip. There have been times in the past when she has been candid and thoughtful (OK – often about things like cooking, but a few weightier matters as well). With undisguised lust for the top job in 2017, she has undergone a major extra-pro-Beijing makeover, culminating in this recent full-blown tirade against crazy young people who want to keep their city…
Since 1997, Beijing has been nothing but extraordinarily helpful to Hong Kong whenever the latter’s economy is in trouble, and extraordinarily tolerant in allowing protests unimaginable on the mainland to thrive in Hong Kong. For a country of 1.3 billion people, which has never known universal suffrage in its 5,000 years of history, it is taking huge risks and a plunge into the unknown by promising Hong Kong ultimate election of the chief executive by universal suffrage…
Under the “one country, two systems” arrangement, Hong Kong is also extraordinarily privileged in not having to pay tax to the central authorities or the costs of defence of the territory. (In the colonial era, Hong Kong paid as much as 70 per cent).
Why this rage against the motherland which has done nothing but tried its best to welcome back an “abducted” child with open arms?
Wow. Has she failed to tick any box? We’ve got China ‘helping’ Hong Kong economically, China being generous in allowing people freedom, 5,000 years of history, etc, etc. Just one bit to go: the standard (and insulting and shallow) domestic state propaganda line that Hong Kong people find it humiliating that Mainlanders are no longer as wretchedly impoverished as they used to be…
Now heavily dependent economically on mainland China, the sense of injured pride has led many to view China as a threat, and fantasise that Hong Kong would be better off as a free-standing “Hong Kong race”.
Yet again, we see the perverse impulse to self-mutilate: in order to prove loyalty to the Communist regime, you have to talk total crap and shred your credibility in the eyes of fellow Hongkongers, even to the point of denouncing them as idiots.
Perhaps the most dismaying thing about Rita Fan’s three names is simply the staleness. In 2017, CY will be 63, Antony Leung 65 and Regina Ip 67. All have been active in some way on the political/government scene since pre-1997. All have failed – Antony and Regina both resigned in one evening, when Hong Kong was last in a crisis even slightly comparable to today’s. You don’t associate any of them with the concept of ‘the future’, let alone an exciting one. Indeed, like the aged property tycoons who crush competition, innovation and entrepreneurship out of the economy, they are relics and reminders of how and why Hong Kong has been going wrong.
On the subject of political has-beens, Jeremy Thorpe – long-ago leader of the UK’s minor Liberal Party – has just died. By some cosmic twist of fate, this happened at much the same time as the judge in the Rafael Hui/Kwok brothers bribery trial began his summing-up for the jury. Which brings us neatly to…