So few people turned out for yesterday’s march against Hong Kong’s proposed fake-democracy political reforms that the police found it hard to underestimate the crowd size. It was hot. And marching is a tired and overused tactic (the next one is a whole two weeks away). But more than anything else, the proposed reform package is already dead, before it gets to the Legislative Council on Wednesday.
Supporters of the reform manage two last gasps.
A group of (largely) faded, old-style bureaucrat-business figures sign up to a full-page ad in the papers pleading Let’s Move Forward…
Looking through all these names, you get a ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ feeling. These are 1990s colonial-era paternalist-elite types – wary of democracy, but even more fearful of Chief Executive CY Leung and of what could happen next. (Meanwhile, numerous polls of professional groups and academics in recent days have called for lawmakers to reject the package.)
And Chief Secretary Carrie Lam writes a lengthy suicide note on behalf of the package, for publication in all newspapers. She reminds readers that the proposal has ‘three liberal and democratic features’. (Essentially, candidates seeking nomination would need no more than 120 endorsements from the nomination committee, members of which could recommend multiple nominees, and whose vote to decide the final two or three candidates would be secret.) These features allowed for a potential scenario under which the Beijing-controlled nomination committee could face the awkward choice of barring a highly popular outsider from the ballot. It is likely that Carrie and her colleagues sweated blood to extract this as a concession from Beijing control-freaks. It was downplayed in the official pro-reform publicity campaign. Perhaps this is why she is claiming her conscience is clean.
A before-and-after poll showed that the audience turned against the package after watching a TV debate between pro-dem and pro-Beijing politicians. This may partly reflect the personalities involved. Among the pro-dems, Emily Lau gets over-excited, and Alan Leong is possibly a bit underwhelming. But they were ranged against the likes of James Tien, a classic dimwit rich-kid, and Priscilla ‘Rat Queen’ Leung, who comes across as venomous and opportunistic. If you were choosing representatives of the two camps in order to subliminally emphasize the pro-dems’ relative decency and intelligence, and the anti-dems distastefulness, you could well have picked this lot. But the TV audience poll probably also reflects the pro-dems’ success in convincing majority public opinion that rejecting the ‘fake-democracy’ is preferable to accepting it.
So the big question will soon be: what next? One answer everyone will give is ‘a major backlash’, but several backlashes seem likely. The pro-Beijing loyalists will try to demonize the pan-dems for ‘holding up’ democracy – a tricky accusation for Communist sympathizers to pull off. The pro-dems will hope for a backlash against the pro-Beijing camp, notably in the 2016 legislative elections. Backlashes that cancel each other out seem a distinct possibility. As does some internecine backstabbing, not least between the pro-CY and anti-CY factions in the pro-establishment camp.
Beneath all the recriminations, this should look like a victory for the pan-dems and for the Hong Kong people. The pro-dems’ PR plan (fat chance) would ditch the usual self-pitying moroseness and martyrdom and throw a massive, joyful celebration party in Admiralty and elsewhere after the package is kicked out.