The government's constitutional development proposal, unveiled last Wednesday, contained few surprises and was lambasted by critics inside and outside the Legislative Council.
Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, in presenting the document to legislators, explained that this was the best deal Beijing would permit. While many from the pan-democratic camp are still calling for universal suffrage for all of Legco and the chief executive election in 2012, Tang pointed out that the National People's Congress Standing Committee had ruled that out.
As to demands for a road map for universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020, Tang explained that the administration of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen did not have the authority to put one forward. The central government's liaison office in Hong Kong confirmed that Beijing has limited the latest consultation paper to election methods in 2012.
Yet, Tang had scarcely stopped speaking when large numbers of legislators, with banners and slogans prepared in advance, marched to the Central Government Offices in protest. Legislators from the League of Social Democrats demonstrated outside Government House.
No one, as far as can be determined, protested against Beijing for tying the hands of the Hong Kong government. Ironically, last Wednesday's papers also reported that a survey conducted by the Public Opinion Programme of Hong Kong University showed 44 per cent of Hong Kong people felt positively about the central government, while only 24 per cent indicated the same feeling about the Hong Kong government.
Moreover, while 20 per cent of the 622 respondents had negative feelings about the Hong Kong government, only 15 per cent had such feelings about Beijing.
Just as legislators vetoed the reform package in 2005 because it did not have a timetable for universal suffrage - something which the Tsang administration did not have the authority to provide - so, they are threatening to veto the current package because it lacks a road map, again something the administration does not have the authority to provide.
Given that Beijing has imposed severe limits on what can be done in 2012, the consultation document ought to be judged not in terms of what the Tsang administration did not do because it does not have the authority to act. It should be judged on its merits: within the realm of the possible, did it do as much as it could?
The political reform package put forward four years ago proposed that the Election Committee for choosing the chief executive be doubled to 1,600 members. Tsang explained on November 30, 2005: 'Our proposed constitutional development package is a democratic package ... it significantly enhances the democratic element of the method for selecting the chief executive by doubling the size of the Election Committee...'
If that was a significant enhancement of the democratic element, why is the proposal this year for a much smaller number? Tsang explained that it was, in part, based on the Standing Committee's decision that the future nominating committee should make reference to the Election Committee formed in 2012. But shouldn't the nominating committee be as democratic as possible?
Again, in 2005, the government promised that the appointment of district councillors would be phased out by 2016. But the administration is silent this year on ending the appointment system. Why?
If the government is serious about increasing democratic elements, it should reform functional constituencies, not necessarily eliminate them. Yet it doesn't seem to want to do the one thing it can most easily do - abolish corporate votes. Why?
The current reform package has apparent weaknesses. It should stand or fall on its own merits - not be vetoed because it does not provide something the government does not have the power to provide.
Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.