China to Hong Kong: Forget Electoral Reform

It was billed by the Hong Kong government as an opportunity to discuss political reform in Hong Kong with Chinese government officials. In reality it was a display of the subservience of the territory’s chief executive to Beijing and of Hong Kong’s supposedly separate legislature to the executive.

At the behest of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, most legislators answered the call to take an early morning bus across the border to Shenzhen to meet the director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, the director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong and the head of the Basic Law committee of the National People’s Congress.

Almost all pro-government legislators answered the summons to Shenzhen. Many pro-democracy ones declined on the grounds there was nothing new on the table and there was no reason why the mainland officials could not meet them in Hong Kong. Radical legislator Leung Kwok-hung, better known as Long Hair, said he was willing to go but the conditions imposed on him made that impossible. Ironically, Leung was just refused entry into Malaysia to attend a series of political meetings because of the Malaysian government’s subservience to China.

Instead of any dialogue, legislators were treated to harangues by the officials as Leung and his Chief Secretary for Administration looked on approvingly. Specifically the mainland officials repeated what was already obvious, that no changes would be made in the so-called “reform” of the system for choosing the next chief executive in 2017. They then proceeded to threaten pro-democracy legislators with dire, but unspecified consequences should they brusquely vote down the “reform” legislation to be voted on June 17. If most sustain their opposition to the legislation, which requires a two thirds majority, it will not pass and the existing system will remain in place.

Although the proposal offers every person a vote, it is universal suffrage built on a sham. The candidates can only be those pre-selected by a majority of the small group, mostly of Beijing-aligned delegates, who constitute the selection process. This the critics argue is no advance at all on the current system, which has a much smaller electorate but can offer a wider choice of candidates and hence more real rather than nominal competition. The mainland officials brusquely rejected any idea of even minor concessions such as allowing a “none of the above” voting option or the removal of corporate voting.

Mainland and Hong Kong officials continue to insist that democrats who reject the “reform” will suffer at the next legislative election. However, despite a massive propaganda campaign, helped by tame media including the main English language paper, the South China Morning Post, surveys suggest the population remains roughly equally divided on whether or not to accept the “reform,” with younger voters especially opposed.

One thing is sure. Between now and June 17 CY Leung and his handlers across the border will be using every kind of carrot and blackmail to get enough pro-democracy legislators to change their minds and thereby avoid a rebuff for Beijing’s diktat and its fake version of universal suffrage. That does not appear an outcome that a large segment of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people will find acceptable.