Hong Kong people must not accept electoral reform farce

Stephen Vines says the process so far suggests a watered-down outcome

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 4:07pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 9:38pm

The government is yet again threatening to give farce a bad name with this week's launch of its constitutional reform consultation. We now more or less know the outcome of plans for the next chief executive election, and so pretending to seek public input is little more than a distasteful joke.

Let's set aside the minor absurdity of starting off the consultation exercise with a booklet full of caveats about what can be achieved.

The way this will pan out follows a pattern established in the handover negotiations

We know that, when the fine people in Tamar finally get around to making their own proposals, they will have ensured that: first, there is little time left for discussion; second, the supporters of the least democratic scheme will have been mobilised to send in pro forma comments that can be dressed up as majority opinion, and; third, this whole farce will be hailed as a great example of democracy at work.

The central government has already decided that Hong Kong will not be allowed to elect anyone who is not to its liking. In order to achieve this end, measures will be put in place to exclude candidates who do not meet this important criterion.

There is the small matter of fulfilling promises of achieving full democracy but we have already been told that this is really not suitable in Hong Kong. However, the word "democracy" will be freely bandied about by those who despise this concept.

What is really fascinating is the way all this will pan out, because it follows a pattern established by China's policymakers in the handover negotiations, where expectations were whittled down and Beijing's key objectives achieved.

First comes a declaration from one of the important people in Beijing stating, in the most general terms, a commitment to a certain goal - in this case, democracy. We've had this from every party leader from Deng Xiaoping downwards.

The alleged commitment to universal suffrage was incorporated in a National People's Congress declaration back in 2007.

As the time for implementation drew close, lesser officials started drawing strict parameters within which this goal of democracy could be realised. The recent visit to Hong Kong by Li Fei , chairman of the Basic Law Committee, was accompanied by the clearest of indications that the goal of universal suffrage was to be confined to a contest between those who had received Beijing's seal of approval. It became clear that this would be achieved by narrowing the base of those able to nominate the candidates.

That brings us to where we are now, a period in which Li's general statements are being used to damp down expectations of how democratic the next chief executive election can be expected to be.

At this point, the usual chorus of sycophants has been mobilised; some will go even further and call for an outrageously rigged election while the majority will simply provide an echo chamber for the views expressed up north.

Then, almost certainly at the last minute, we shall finally see proposals supposedly originating from the Hong Kong government, which will outline plans for a limited form of election. This will possibly be followed by some kind of "concession" that will be hailed by the government as a generous move to achieve a reasonable compromise between extremist views.

Fatalists will simply shrug and ask, "What more can you expect?"

History shows us that even dictatorships can be swayed by a really massive public response. This almost certainly will not be delivered by plans of the Occupy Central organisers, who focus on minority action by a hard core of democrats.

However, a more extensive response can still come from Hong Kong's freedom-loving people.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur