Where would we be now if the democrats had gone along with the constitutional reform proposals contained in the infamous 831 resolution of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee?
The answer is that we would be exactly where we are now but possibly with further setbacks to political reform because under the NPCSC’s ruling, a chief executive candidate would need to secure 600 nominations before qualifying for the next stage of election offering so-called universal suffrage.
Because the 1,200-strong Election Committee would have remained unchanged, there is virtual certainty that it would have been impossible for a democrat to be nominated even though the democrats made an enormous breakthrough in the elections for the Election Committee.
Nonetheless, because this body is stuffed with rotten boroughs and unrepresentative membership, the democrats only succeeded in securing some 300 seats.
It was tempting at the time, two years ago, to argue, as indeed the government maintained, that the reform proposals were but one stage in a five-step process leading to universal suffrage, however and it is a very big however, even back then there was no solid promise of real universal suffrage only a vague assurance that Hong Kong would be heading in that direction.
In the intervening period, we have seen the reality of the commitment to work towards genuine elections with the Leung administration going to court to strip 20 per cent of the directly elected legislators of their seats in Legco.
On top of this, we have seen previously neutral election officials acting as political commissars disqualifying certain candidates from even running in the elections.
And, of course, the stipulation that candidates need 600 Election Committee nominations to stand for election is far more stringent than the current nomination level of 150.
Had the democrats in Legco backed the government’s reform proposals, it is entirely possible that there would only be one candidate in the pending chief executive election, thus avoiding the need to even bother to hold a poll. However, even if there were more than one candidate it is an absolute certainty that they would come from the loyalist camp.
Thus the Hong Kong public would have no real choice but the government would proclaim that the new chief executive achieved office by way of democratic election. It’s a paper-thin claim but the usual suspects would be busy spreading it around.
As matters stand, Beijing has already decided who will win the “election” and unless Carrie Lam does something incredibly stupid (in the mode of Henry Tang), she will be installed in office.
In 2012, the central government was far subtler in pressurizing its tame Election Committee surrogates but this time not only has the pro-Beijing media been fully unleashed in support of Lam but the phones of Election Committee members are burning with calls from Western as they are reminded of their patriotic duty in this matter.
The lesson of this farce is that advocates of genuine universal suffrage need to exercise considerable caution in accepting proposals from a government that is fundamentally committed to circumventing the requirements of the Basic Law, which stipulate a commitment to universal suffrage, albeit on nomination of chief executive candidates by a “broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures”.
There is not one iota of evidence that the increasingly opposition-intolerant Beijing government has the smallest desire to see a functioning democracy installed in Hong Kong.
Therefore, the democrats were right to block the passage of the constitutional reform bill but there is a lingering impression that in so doing they also, foolishly, blocked one of the paths to securing democracy for Hong Kong.
This fiction is still being spread, not least by various individuals and organisations that claim to be democratic and think there is some kind of middle path that can bring the democrats and anti-democrats together. This is a terrible illusion; the reality is that fighting for true democracy involves a very hard slog. As matters stand, a majority of Hong Kong people seem to understand this.
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