Mak­ing some­thing of HK bill fi­asco

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

As ex­pected, the Hong Kong Gov­ern­ment’s elec­toral re­form pack­age, which had been t he fo­cus of heated de­bate, failed to pass in the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil, thus block­ing Bei­jing’s for­mula for “one man, one vote” elec­tions for Chief Ex­ec­u­tive in 2017. In­stead, a 1,200-mem­ber elec­tion com­mit­tee will con­tinue to de­cide.

But po­lit­i­cal drama of a high or­der ac­com­pa­nied the vote in the leg­is­la­ture. In the end, in­stead of a sub­stan­tial num­ber sup­port­ing the gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive but fall­ing short of the re­quired two-thirds ma­jor­ity, the mea­sure re­ceived only eight votes in the 70-mem­ber leg­is­la­ture, with 28 votes against, af­ter a far­ci­cal last-minute ma­neu­ver by Bei­jing sup­port­ers,

The 28-8 vote against the bill is ex­tremely em­bar­rass­ing to Bei­jing. China’s Hong Kong and Ma­cau Af­fairs Of­fice is­sued a state­ment blam­ing “a hand­ful of Hong Kong leg­is­la­tors” for vot­ing against the mea­sure, say­ing that “they should be held re­spon­si­ble.” How­ever, it

FRANK CHING

did not re­port that an even smaller “hand­ful” had voted for the bill.

‘Fake democ­racy of a pre-screen­ing re­quire­ment’

Both Bei­jing and the Hong Kong author­i­ties are pub­licly blam­ing the democrats, who op­posed the bill as “fake democ­racy” be­cause of a pre-screen­ing re­quire­ment of can­di­dates by a nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tee dom­i­nated by pro-Bei­jing in­ter­ests. They were joined by Le­ung Ka-lau, who rep­re­sents doc­tors in the leg­is­la­ture.

How­ever, China’s rage may well be even greater against the 33 pro-es­tab­lish­ment leg­is­la­tors who failed to vote at all, most of whom walked out sec­onds be­fore the vote took place, ap­par­ently in the mis­taken belief that their ab­sence will halt the vote for lack of a quo­rum.

The walk­out was not a protest, but sim­ply an at­tempt to de­lay the pro­ce­dure so that another mem­ber, 79-year-old Lau Wong-fat, the ru­ral king­pin, who was on his way, could also take part, even though that would not have changed the fi­nal out­come. In the event, it was a last-minute de­ci­sion and not all pro-es­tab­lish­ment law­mak­ers were told of this, so nine of them re­mained in their seats, with eight vot­ing for the gov­ern­ment and the ninth, amid the con­fu­sion, not know­ing whether or how to vote.

Even more em­bar­rass­ing for the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Chief Ex- ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying is that three leg­is­la­tors he ap­pointed to the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil, the ter­ri­tory’s high­est ad­vi­sory body, in­stead of vot­ing in sup­port of the gov­ern­ment, joined the walk­out. One of them, Jeffrey Lam, a busi­ness­man who rep­re­sents the Hong Kong Gen­eral Cham­ber of Com­merce, first asked for a 15-minute ad­journ­ment and, when the cham­ber’s Pres­i­dent, Jasper Tsang, pointed out that the vot­ing process had al­ready be­gun, led the walk­out with Ip Kwok-him, deputy chair of the Demo­cratic Al­liance for the Bet­ter­ment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the main pro-Bei­jing party.

The other Exco mem­bers who walked out were Regina Ip, a for­mer se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who has made clear her de­sire to be the next Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, and Starry Lee, chair of the DAB.

Since then, both Lam and Ip have wept in front of TV cam­eras and apol­o­gized for their be­hav­ior. But none have of­fered to re­sign.

Iron­i­cally, the bill’s fail­ure may well be pos­i­tive, at least in the short run. Le­ung has an­nounced a new fo­cus on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and liveli­hood is­sues in the re­main­ing two years of his term, a goal sup­ported by Alan Leong, a key leader of the pan-demo­cratic camp.

Hong Kong has for far too long been ob­sessed with po­lit­i­cal is­sues and it is vi­tal to lower the tem­per­a­ture and halt the po­lar­iza­tion of so­ci­ety. There is plenty that needs to be done to make Hong Kong a bet­ter place in which to live.

Po­lit­i­cally, at­ten­tion will now switch to the leg­isla­tive elec­tions next year. Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung had called for those op­pos­ing the re­form pack­age to be thrown out of the leg­is­la­ture, but the vot­ing fi­asco will make it harder to push this ar­gu­ment.

As for Bei­jing, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping may well be se­cretly pleased that the pack­age failed. It was, af­ter all, not his idea but that of the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, who first pre­sented it in 2007. This way, the com­mu­nist party can say that it has of­fered uni­ver­sal suf­frage elec­tions, as promised in the Ba­sic Law, but that the of­fer was re­jected by the pan-democrats.

The an­tics of Bei­jing’s sup­port­ers re­call those of “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” But this should not be a cause for mer­ri­ment. The fi­asco is likely to presage the tight­en­ing of China’s con­trol over Hong Kong, a process that has al­ready been much in ev­i­dence for the last dozen years. Things are now likely to get worse. Frank.ching@gmail.com Twit­ter: @FrankChing1

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