Donald Tsang

Waiting for Scrooge

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 December, 2007, 12:00am

Christmas is not a time to be talking about politics, but that's what they're doing up in Beijing. National leaders are talking about us and our politics; more specifically, whether they think we have become trustworthy enough to be politically unshackled.

But not all of us here are paying attention. We are on the ski slopes of Sapporo, the beaches of Bali and the bars of Bangkok. It is, after all, a time to make merry, and many would rather celebrate the spirit of the season than second-guess the Scrooges in Beijing.

By the Scrooges I mean the members of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Our chief executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, has warily asked them to be a bit charitable and toss us a morsel of democracy.

But their record so far has been one of stinginess, so don't expect them to dig too deep into their political pockets.

Besides, the people know the Scrooges of Beijing will never fully unshackle them, anyway. What do the members of the Standing Committee know of democracy, of one person, one vote? It's not as if they have any personal experience or even any aspirations towards that end.

That is why the people here believe their time is better spent seeing the Christmas lights than wondering if the Scrooges will see the light of day regarding our political aspirations.

Wasn't it wonderful timing that Mr Tsang handed in his political reform report to Beijing just ahead of the festive season, and that the Standing Committee accommodated him by putting the matter on its agenda for December 23 to 29? That's impressive efficiency for a legislature that normally moves at glacial speed.

So, while the Standing Committee is sealing our fate over a matter of days on a seminal issue that has been simmering for years, we'll be eating turkey, exchanging presents, caroling, going to church - for those of us who are religious. Or we'll be getting ready to toast in the New Year if the committee saves its ruling until the end of its meeting.

If the committee members had any political savvy, they would delay their decision until their next meeting, in early spring. They could even take a further step by having a dialogue with the democrats before reaching their decision.

That would give the impression, at least, that the deciders were really deliberating our fate rather than simply rubber-stamping it.

But that's like wishing for a white Christmas in hot and humid Hong Kong. It's not impossible, but highly improbable.

More important than how deep the committee members reach into their pockets is what they pull out. The one thing that is certain not to emerge is full democracy by 2012, the year when we have elections for both the chief executive and Legislative Council.

Mr Tsang knows the Standing Committee members would tremble at the thought of letting us freely choose our chief executive and legislators at the same time, five years from now. He therefore didn't ask that of them.

Instead, he gave them a way out by telling them that, while more than half of Hongkongers want democratic elections by 2012, some of the 30 undemocratically elected Legco members would vote to block democracy.

He suggested in not so many words that the Standing Committee should therefore block democracy first. But Mr Tsang wanted to make sure we saw him not as a villain but merely the messenger of reality, so he suggested that the committee look at 2017 as a better time for free chief executive elections while leaving aside the issue of free Legco elections.

The Standing Committee now has the cover it needs to kill off any lingering hope of full democracy by 2012. But the die is cast for 2017 in the minds of the people.

Beijing should not misread political patience as apathy. If the committee fudges, or decides on anything short of democratic elections by 2017 with no strings attached, then it will give us every right to say 'Bah, humbug!'

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster.