China’s plan to add a thinner-than-paper “democratic” veneer to the way it runs Hong Kong failed as expected on Thursday, but Beijing suffered an own-goal, which meant it could not blame pro-democracy lawmakers for its defeat.
The walkout by loyalist lawmakers just minutes before the ballot meant that 28 lawmakers voted against the proposal, eight were in favor and 34 did not cast votes.
The bill needed the support of 47 of the council’s 70 members to pass and that was never going to happen, not a little detail that mattered to China’s state-run media, with the People’s Daily saying the opposition had shown that “they are disturbers and destroyers in the process of the democratization of Hong Kong.”
Even some Western pundits said that the pro-democracy faction might have let down Hong Kong’s 5 million residents, because the bill, which would have allowed them to vote for their chief executive for the first time in 2017 — albeit from a slate of candidates pre-approved by Beijing — was the best chance the territory was going to get from China’s rulers.
However, pro-democracy Hong Kong Legislator Claudia Mo (毛孟靜), who called the government’s proposal “a maggot-ridden apple,” summed up the dilemma facing her and her colleagues, saying: “This resolution is a fraud. This bill makes nonsense of the word democracy. It is a very bogus version of universal suffrage.”
Under the plan, a 1,200-member nominating committee would choose two to three candidates for chief executive from a list of a minimum of five and a maximum of 10 nominees, which the government said would ensure balanced participation and competition by increasing the number of candidates and providing cross-sector support.
Yet, for many Hong Kongers, the nominating committee, which was to be made up of representatives from four major sectors, did not sound much different from the 1,200-member Election Committee that selected the chief executive in the 2012 election, with 300 members each from four sectors: industry, commerce and finance; the professions; labor, religious and social service groups; and members of the Legislative Council, district councils, Chinese National People’s Congress and other politicians.
The 2012 election, like all elections since Hong Kong’s handover in 1997, gave the territory a chief executive who was more concerned with carrying out Beijing’s instructions than listening to the desires and aspirations of the people he is supposed to represent.
Can an election really be called democratic when voters do not have the opportunity to vote for someone of their own choosing?
Taiwanese who lived through the Martial Law era know the answer to that question all too well, as did the voters of the former Soviet Union and its satellite states, and the more than 11.4 million Iraqi voters who in 2002 unanimously voted to give then-president Saddam Hussein another seven-year term. Perhaps 100 percent of North Korean voters really did turn out in March last year to unanimously elect Kim Jong-un to the Supreme People’s Assembly, although the outside world would never hear differently and did little more than snort at the news reports out of Pyongyang.
Despite the Chinese media’s propaganda, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislators, activists and supporters are not seeking independence from Beijing; they just want to be able to elect someone who is willing to stand up for their needs and defend the territory’s special status, not just suck up to Zhongnanhai and the big business powers that control the territory.
By voting down the “reform” proposal, the opposition said it was not willing to turn Hong Kong into a Potemkin village that Beijing could use to pretend that it was willing to experiment with democracy.
Hong Kong now faces an uncertain future, with the likelihood of more protests and turmoil, but the fault lies with Beijing, not the territory’s democratic proponents.
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