As expected, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in Beijing on Sunday ratified a plan for Hong Kong’s 2017 chief executive election that a majority of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people do not want, despite a bogus plebiscite conducted last month by pro-Beijing sympathizers that said otherwise.
Beijing’s plan for the territory clearly reneges on the promises made in the Basic Law promulgated in 1997 that governs the politics of the territory.
The decision is a clear indication that small as Hong Kong is in relation to the mainland, the government of President Xi Jinping is still in the throes of a major leadership crisis and wants no examples that democracy works. Xi has been tightening the screws on dissidents throughout China and Hong Kong clearly was never going to be an exception.
In language that can only be described as Orwellian, Xinhua, the state-owned news agency, said the NPC’s standing committee adopted provisions that “when the selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is implemented by the method of universal suffrage, a broadly representative nominating committee shall be formed.”
The document was entitled “Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Issues Relating to the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by Universal Suffrage and on the Method for Forming the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the Year 2016.”
Although the document said that “all eligible electors of the region have the rights to vote in the election of the Chief Executive and elect one of the candidates for the office of the Chief Executive,” they do not have the right to select who will run. That will be done by representatives from four major sectors of Hong Kong society, the same ones who have done Beijing’s bidding for the past 20 years, protecting an oligarchy with little sympathy for common voters.
If by some chance a pro-democracy candidate were somehow to slip through what looks like a mistake-tight net, the Central People’s government “reserves the right to appoint the chief executive after the election.” Democrats need not apply.
Although other officials have repeatedly said the same thing, Li Fei, the deputy secretary-general of the standing committee and chairman of the Basic Law Committee, told Hong Kong lawmakers during a recent meeting in Shenzhen that, among other things, the candidate for chief executive must be “patriotic” and “love the country of China as well as Hong Kong.”
For months, pressure has been mounting on pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong, with threats and violence against members of the press and underground smear campaigns against pro-democracy leaders. Beijing cannot and will not allow the will of the people to be heard.
At the same time, however, pro-democracy forces are fragmented with internal disputes and ego problems. Not having any comprehensive strategy or programs for everyday issues, they have become boxed into a single-issue corner. They are a spent force with little relevance for society.
“There is no effective leadership which can orchestrate a pan-democratic position on the wide range of pressing issues for Hong Kong,” said a long time political observer.
What happens now is open to question. During recent months, a pro-democracy group called Occupy Central with Love and Peace, led by law professor Benny Ta Yiu-ting, has been threatening to close down the central business district if universal suffrage according to “international standards” isn’t carried out. It won’t be.
Occupy Central was expected to be joined by the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the Civil Rights Front and pan-democratic members of the Legislative Council led by lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan and others. But on Sunday, in the midst of sometimes heavy rain a relative handful of protesters gathered at the massive new government building in Central to protest the NPC’s decision. Unfortunately, the likelihood that they will have any effect is zero. Hong Kong has about as much chance for universal suffrage as Tibet has. But the protests are expected to continue.
“It is critical that the democracy camp navigate post-Occupy Central with caution,” said a young Hong Kong-born activist. “My feeling is the majority of the young are firmly in their camp, but also feel alienated from traditional politics, a feeling that will only grow as the system is seen as being even less legitimate. What China risks is forcing politics even further away from the debating halls of Legco, and if not into the streets then manifesting itself in even higher levels of anti-Mainland feeling in the community.”
It is certain that, as Beijing has demanded, the first criterion for election will be a profession of loyalty to Beijing rather than competence, an unfortunate fact of life for the first three post-1997 chief executives who have governed the territory with dubious success. Mistaking loyalty for competence is an old practice in dictatorships.
The first of the three, shipping magnate Tung Chee-hwa, whose failed company had to be rescued by China in the 1980s, was effectively turfed out of office by Beijing for mishandling protests over attempts to install a draconian internal security act and a flock of other issues. The second, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, a former longtime civil servant with clear loyalties to Beijing, finished his term but left under fire for having consorted with gangsters in Macau, accepting hospitality from tycoons for travel and lodging. He was also suspected of having been allocated a luxury apartment in Shenzhen for granting a broadcasting license. The third, Leung Chun-ying, could well be the least popular of the three for his clear desire to do Beijing’s bidding in the current worsening political atmosphere.
There is little likelihood that the fourth will be any better.
“The unfortunate takeaway from all this, is that HK will continue indefinitely with a series of Chief Executives who have no real mandate, and find it almost impossible to do anything other than handouts (until the money runs out) and populist interventions in the economy,” wrote investor gadfly David Webb on his blog. “This is not so much a recipe for universal suffrage as universal suffering. Even if the NPCSC’s proposal is passed by the necessary 2/3 majority of the Legislative Council, whoever wins the next Chief Executive election will be the least unpopular of 2 or 3 Beijing-endorsed candidates, but will not have a popular mandate.”
An editorial in Global Post, the English language mouthpiece of the party in Beijing, pretty much summed it up. “We are convinced that Hong Kong’s opposition groups can in no way win this conflict,” the editorial said. “They may remain immersed in the confrontation against law and alienate themselves from mainstream Hong Kong society, or reflect their behavior in the past and redesign their strategies as the opposition camp into December.” But, the editorial said, it won’t do any good.
“We hope that rationality will finally prevail among them,” the editorial continued. “Those opposing the central government can’t serve as Hong Kong SAR’s chief executive, which is out of the interests of both Hong Kong people and the country at large. Chinese society has drawn a judgment that it is detrimental to Hong Kong to allow an anti-Beijing person to lead the city.”
Pro-democracy advocates have repeatedly pointed out that independence of judgment doesn’t equate with anti-Beijing sympathy. That idea has not soaked in anywhere across the border.
With reporting from Chen Yajiao and Evan Fowler