The Hong Kong Legislative Council begins its new session with much gnashing of teeth as pro-Beijing lawmakers grab the top positions on committees and panels. Last week, they (from pro-democrats’ viewpoint) hijacked the assembly’s two main committees, and now they seize control of most of the subcommittees. This will make it harder for pro-democrats to get in the government’s (and public’s) face by holding up spending proposals and bills.
It is partly retaliation for last year, when the pro-dems’ outsmarted the loyalists in the jockeying for influence over the council’s work. It also represents an end to the practice of letting the democratically elected opposition have some top seats to compensate for over-representation of pro-government members from small, rigged functional constituencies. This tradition did not reflect a sense of fairness so much as a perceived need to give the system some credibility. Now, any pretense that representatives of the people deserve a voice – if only for the sake of symbolic legitimacy – has been abandoned. It is now about raw power.
This is part of a pattern. The police and other front-line government departments are turned into political tools. Public bodies are padded out with loyalists who can impose political tests in academia. Grim old cadres from Party Central rail against separation of powers. Communist propaganda turns on the party’s co-opted shoe-shining Hong Kong tycoons. It’s No More Mr Nice Communist Dictatorship. The Beijing officials at the Liaison Office have clearly ordered the Hong Kong government to throw that colonial gentlemanly-sporting-decency hogwash out the window and get on with exerting proper, no-nonsense Control.
Much of the public, fed up with pro-dem lawmakers’ filibustering (or at least pro-establishment media’s laborious reporting of it), will not be too concerned about Legco committees. The mainstream pro-dem legislators will probably focus on the small picture and indulge in some self-pitying moaning. For years, they have fought nobly for their principles within a structure that is rigged against them but pluralistic and rules-based. Their old guard (which means most of them) are hopelessly ill-equipped to survive, let alone counter, a Leninist enemy-crushing machine that regards fairness with contempt and does not distinguish legitimacy from power.
The next Legislative Council election is less than 12 months away. By Hong Kong standards, it will be brutal: the Liaison Office will not hesitate to use fake voters, fake candidates, smears, bribery and physical intimidation to defeat the opposition. The old campaigners like Emily Lau and Albert Ho should be planning on giving way to a younger, more nimble and creative generation, who can find ways to use the United Front’s brute strength against it.
For example, the Liaison Office-led Hong Kong regime from this point on will have no interest in credibility or the pretense of a level playing-field. It will want, among other things, a rubber-stamp legislature. So, fine – abandon Legco. Let it be full of hapless puppets, and let the people draw their own conclusions about its legitimacy and decide who really represents them. Meanwhile, use the sort of unpredictable, tech-exploiting, culturally rich, energetic and witty methods of the last 12 months’ activism and protest to maximum asymmetric effect. The fight is, ultimately, against people who can’t handle a university Magna Carta exhibit.