After years of bait-and-switch, steps sideways and delay, 2016-17 was supposed to be the moment Beijing finally honoured its commitment to give Hong Kong universal suffrage. But the proposed reforms rest on a tightly managed nomination system enabling the Chinese government to pre-approve – or simply select – all the Chief Executive candidates on the ballot. With pro-democrats vowing to vote against the package in the Legislative Council, the reforms look certain to fail.
One pro-dem lawmaker, the Civic Party’s Ronny Tong, has tested Beijing’s willingness to be flexible and offered to consider voting for the package in exchange for a promise to liberalize the system for 2022. The official response is now out: a blunt ‘no’. The nominating committee for 2022 would continue to be stacked with Communist Party loyalist-automatons and serve as a rubber stamp for the list of candidates chosen by Beijing.
The officials offer old, lame excuses. Constitutional Affairs Secretary Raymond Tam cites the Basic Law, while Chief Secretary Carrie Lam blathers about a need for the Chief Executive to be ‘broadly representative’ – composition of the nominating body is rigged through a system designed to appear to represent ‘sectors’. For some reason the pro-dems tend to dispute and debate these fake reasons at face value. In fact, the Basic Law, being Chinese legislation, can mean anything Beijing wants it to mean. And the nominating body is not packed with fishermen, herbalists, tycoons and aged patriots to give these special interests a voice: it is about ensuring that the Communist Party has ultimate control, and nothing else.
Ronny gives up and says there is no need to waste any more time. The representative of the accounting profession declares himself numbed. Even Frederick Fung, the mildest and most moderate pro-democrat there is, sees no choice but to vote against. These are the possible waverers the government was counting on to get the package through.
Hong Kong officials now struggle to sound eager about convincing the pro-dems to change their mind. It’s as if they have given up. Raymond Tam could almost be sending out telepathic signals that he doesn’t blame the pro-dems and would veto this mess if he were one of them. Only Carrie still exhibits a glimmer of real, if grim, determination, maybe out of a sense of duty, or perhaps fear of what might happen if and when the package fails.
Members of the pro-Beijing camp cheerfully recite the same old lines about how wonderful it will be for Hong Kong people to have universal suffrage. These are forces that hate the Hong Kong people and hate universal suffrage. China’s officials themselves seem indifferent; with Xi Jinping’s regime clamping down on everything, they are obsessed with a US plot to launch a counter-revolution in Hong Kong and the dismal quality and quantity of pro-Communist brainwashing in the city’s schools.
This story does not make the front pages. None of it is hugely surprising – indeed, it is all so predictable. Did anyone really expect a Communist one-party state to let a city’s population choose its own leader? But this is really about something completely unknowable. The grand act of granting quasi-democracy was supposed to be the ultimate privilege – denied to every other place in the PRC – to pacify and win the hearts of Hong Kong. And the ungrateful, rebellious and untrustworthy brats have spat it out. What to do with them now?
I declare the weekend open with the dreadful thought that regular and frequent TV appearances by CY Leung’s scrawny and graceless she-wolf offspring Chai-yan are just the beginning.