China Tries to Head off Hong Kong Democracy

Twenty years after stalling universal suffrage for Hong Kong to elect its chief executive and legislators – promised in the territory’s mini constitution called the Basic Law, Beijing is now bent on hijacking the process of chief executive selection for 2017. Patriotism – equated as it is with allegiance to Communist Party dictatorship, has been introduced as a filter to screen out critics.

Li Fei, the grandee from the National Peoples’ Congress Standing Committee and Basic Law Committee chairman, visited Hong Kong on Nov. 22 to say who can qualify and how chief executive candidates should be selected. “Candidates have to love Hong Kong, love China and not oppose the central government. The nomination committee will decide the candidates,” he said.

His visit was hailed in the local communist press as “writing on the wall” for Hong Kong. The Hong Kong administration of chief secretary Carrie Lam and chief executive CY Leung looked suitably chastised, so they can claim the Nuremberg defense when up for public thrashing: we were only following orders.

The essence of Li Fei’s message is the proven Stalinist wisdom: Beijing wants to control who stands for election so the votes and voters don’t matter one bit. Adolf Hitler, master propagandist of the 20th Century, observed: “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victim to a BIG lie, than to a small one.” The obfuscation furiously peddled around the Basic Law provisions on direct elections by universal suffrage, looks very much the mechanics of the big lie.

Patriotism not in Basic Law The Basic Law lays down no such political qualifications for chief executive. Article 44 says any Chinese citizen and Hong Kong resident, aged 40 years and above, qualifies to stand for election to the post. So Li Fei was way out of line in imposing on top of Article 44, conditions not in the constitution at all. His political pre-qualifications have no legal basis. It amounts to saying Hong Kong’s 7 million residents can only elect communist party faithful to the top job.

Patriotism is itself problematic as it defies objective definition. All leaders take an oath of office to uphold the law, be loyal to the country and serve the people. That is all. Love of a one-party dictatorship is not required. Jingoism and patriotism were aptly put down by Samuel Johnson as “the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

The majority of Hong Kong people love Hong Kong, love China and hate the Communist Party. Their grandparents fled waves of violence and chaos during Mao’s 1949 mass purges of class enemies, the disastrous famine which followed his Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution madness. Memories are too fresh.

Li Fei’s other suggestion that the Election Committee of hand-picked Beijing loyalists and nodding rubber-stampers who “elected” the three chief executives since 1997, serve as the nomination committee for the 2017 chief executive candidates, is another deviation. Article 45 unequivocally states that “The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”

The Election Committee has been stacked to ensure the outcomes Beijing wants. It is neither “broadly representative” nor democratic. It fails to meet Basic Law Article 45 criteria. Hong Kong voters have not been asked and neither have they granted any such mandate to this Election Committee. It remains a peculiar Beijing animal in a communist zoo of little relevance to Hong Kong people.

Election Committee past “use-by” date Basic Law (Annex I) specifies that the Election Committee is to be used for the first two Chief Executive terms only – after which the Chief Executive was to be directly elected – back in 2007. That was denied, stalled and grudgingly kicked on to 2017 by the National Peoples’ Congress. The Basic Law does not say that the Election Committee transforms into a nomination committee for direct elections beyond its stipulated role.

It is up to Hong Kong’s appointed leader Leung Chun-ying (CY Leung) to point out these contradictions and to follow the Basic Law to the letter. Hong Kong first needs to create a “broadly representative” nominating committee that satisfies Article 45, then find ways for trusted and capable leaders to come forward for election to represent Hong Kong society and secure its future.

The untrusted and highly unpopular CY Leung, his administration in tatters from scandals hounding him and several of his closest political appointees, is unlikely to do any such thing. This failure of leadership once again adds another burden of betrayal for the people of Hong Kong to rectify on the street.

Society aware of its rights Despite not having the right to choose its leaders or government, Hong Kong enjoys all other freedoms of advanced and mature first-world societies. It has a trusted, meritocratic civil service, rule of law, free press and a police force not extracting bribes from Joe Public.

All that is being systematically undermined of course by pro-Beijing forces through stealth and infiltration of the civil service, universities, politicization of policing and the education system but in essence the foundations still remain strong and moral. But not for long if a halt is not called to this race to the bottom.

On governance and the protection of the rights of its citizens, Hong Kong is light years ahead of its sovereign in Beijing. That irony seems lost on the comrades of the DAB and the China Liaison Office who steer the current Hong Kong administration on how to draft its public consultation document for the 2017 chief executive election. Only the people of Hong Kong can stop the theft of their rights by Beijing apparatchiks, as their own government seems apathetic and disinclined to press its case.

All three CEs appointed by Beijing since 1997 have suffered from lack of legitimacy. Hong Kong looks ungovernable precisely because it does not have genuine representation in its legislature. 2017 is the one chance for a Hong Kong leader to be elected through universal suffrage to sort out governance matters and stop the rot to its institutions.

Hong Kong residents are pragmatic. They will not elect someone unable or unwilling to work with the central government. But first they want someone of integrity who cares about Hong Kong and who can be trusted. They will not elect someone who will trade away their precious freedoms.