New consultation on political reform: Is there any point?

January 08, 2015 13:16
A task force headed by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam launched on Wednesday the second round of consultation on the 2017 chief executive election process. Photo: HK Government Information Service

The government has kicked off the second round of public consultation on the 2017 Chief Executive election but it's safe to say that any attempt to inject more democratic elements into the framework proposed by the Chinese legislature is doomed to fail.

Albert Chen Hung-yee, former dean of the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Law, has recently recommended two methods. One is a "bundled list voting mechanism": as long as a name list consisting of two CE hopefuls from the pro-establishment camp and one from the pan-democratic side is endorsed by half of the nominating committee, voters in Hong Kong can choose from the three candidates.

But since the proposal still acknowledges the authority of the nominating body as well as the political criteria that all candidates "must love the country and Hong Kong", it's questionable if the pan-democratic camp will send a contender who can be no more than a walk-on part in the election show.

Chen has also suggested that people can effectively reject CE candidates approved by the nominating body if more than half the voters cast blank ballots. I have to point out it's a non-starter too.

Given that the democrats, as a critical minority bloc at the local legislature, have already become a headache to Beijing, it's hard to imagine that the central authorities will accept an arrangement that would enable Hong Kong voters to veto loyalists handpicked for the territory’s top post. The situation will just be too humiliating to Beijing – a "constitutional crisis" as some local lackeys call it - so it will try to avoid that at all costs.

And, even though the final decision to appoint the election winner as the CE rests with the Chinese government according to the Basic Law, Beijing is by all means not prepared to face consequences of it vetoing the election result because it would mean another "constitutional crisis". Only an authoritarian regime that lacks people’s mandate will dread such a crisis.

The reason why Beijing’s CE election package has aroused strong feelings is not just the specific arrangements on how the top leader will be selected – Prof. Chen and other scholars have put forth workarounds that are both democratic and in conformity with the NPC ruling – but Beijing's malevolent logic behind the decision. When Beijing can simply shrug off its pledges to Hong Kong made in the Sino-British joint declaration, can anyone be confident that it will not alter and reinterpret CE election methods to serve its will at any time as it likes?

We can see the writing on the wall: ceding to public grievance is the last thing on Beijing's mind; so what’s the point of a public consultation? Is there anything that can be consulted about?

Estrangement towards China has been running deep among Hongkongers following the bitter impasse and Beijing’s rigid, reactionary attitude is pushing people away further. Some observers now refer to it as a tendency to "unfriend China" while others argue that the three concepts – the Chinese Communist Party, People’s Republic of China and China – should not be confused, as neither the party nor PRC can represent China.

But nitpicking on specific connotations of these concepts is already meaningless now as more youngsters – who are not big fans of Communism in any way -- see no difference between the party, the PRC and China. Many youth have already ditched their ideological identity as Chinese, according to numerous public opinion polls.

For long the party monopolized the criteria and interpretation of China and patriotism: if you refuse to acknowledge and subject yourself to the rule of the party, you will no longer fall under the party’s definition of "Chinese".

Ironically, one outcome of the seemingly irreconcilable antagonism between Hongkongers and Beijing is a "consensus" agreed by both sides: those who resent the party are no longer Chinese.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 5.

Translation by Frank Chen 

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal