Monday, March 03, 2014

Facing Basic Realities

An article by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam in the South China Morning Post urges Hongkongers to "accept basic realities" to achieve universal suffrage in 2017.  Yet Ms Lam appears curiously reluctant to accept some basic realities herself:
  1. Basic Reality 1 - to any reasonable person, the purpose of universal suffrage is not merely to give each citizen an equal vote, but to do so in order to enable them to make a free choice between a selection of candidates representing a broad variety of political viewpoints.  To have a vote but only be able to choose between 2 or 3 identikit candidates with essentially the same views and policies falls well short of the "democratic process" Ms Lam claims to espouse.
  2. Basic Reality 2 - most people don't need to have the meaning of "screening" spelled out.  Ms Lam says 'There are also views suggesting there should be no "screening", but without clearly defining or explaining what "screening" means'.  Well, most of us understand that it simply means rejecting any candidate who does not fit into the category commonly but inaccurately called "pro-China" - in short, anyone who is likely to stand up for the interests of Hong Kong where they clash (as they sometimes do) with those of the mainland.
  3. Basic Reality 3 - contrary to Ms Lam's assertion that a nominating committee modelled on the framework of the four-sector Election Committee currently in place would be broadly representative, the majority of Hong Kong people are well aware that the Election Committee's structure is - and indeed was designed to be - totally unrepresentative.  The government's insistence on modelling the nominating committee on the pattern of the Election Committee (in line with the NPC Standing Committee's ruling) therefore directly engenders the public distrust which leads to demands for alternative systems such as civil nomination. Lam is right that these involve "bypassing the committee or undermining its substantive nomination power", but that is essentially because the likely composition of the committee will fail the Basic Law's requirement that it be "broadly representative".  So which side is failing to comply with the Basic Law here?
  4. Basic Reality 4 -  the Basic Law does not spell out that a CE candidate must "love China and love Hong Kong".  The Hong Kong people are not going to be so stupid as to elect someone who does not love Hong Kong, and they are well aware that the elected person will have to be able to work closely with the central government on many issues.  The problem here is that Beijing implicitly defines "loving the country" to mean "loving the Chinese Communist Party"; a definition many - probably most - Hong Kong people do not share.  They simply wish to be offered at least one candidate who will stand up for the autonomy granted to Hong Kong in the Basic Law, and does not define cooperation as subservience.
So where does this leave us?  Probably we can agree with Ms Lam on one thing - that "the outlook for the successful implementation of universal suffrage for the chief executive election is not very bright, though the prospect is not yet completely bleak".  It would become a lot brighter, however, if the government itself faced up to the basic realities and focused its efforts on trying to convince the authorities in Beijing to trust the Hong Kong people, instead of trying to ram a fake version of democracy that ignores these realities down the throats of the Hong Kong electorate.

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