United Front absorbs ICAC, and other stupidity

29 Aug 2014 | Big Lychee

In the past, Hong Kong has usually had moderate politicians, reasonable media voices and neutral bureaucrats and business people with the wisdom and good humour to maintain some basic cohesion. Even after the Article 23 uproar, or Donald Tsang’s anti-democrat tantrums, some sort of civility returned. This time feels different. In its attempts to assert control, Beijing has polarized the city, and it looks permanent. If they’re going to use law enforcement agencies for political persecution stunts, what’s the point of being moderate and constructive?

Maybe Beijing will realize its tactics are overkill and counterproductive. Otherwise, the city is going to end up more alienated, more disgruntled, and less governable than ever.

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An ‘end in sight’ scenario while the struggle continues

19 August 2014 | Big Lychee

It is unlikely that many people went through the Hong Kong government’s report on the public consultation exercise on 2016-17 political reforms. If my own 0.03-
second perusal of the documents is anything to go by, it largely comprised identical statements from hundreds of United Front groups like the Federation of Hong Kong Shenzhen Associations. A South China Morning Post study (which they wisely dumped on academics) confirms that it’s a mass of ‘orchestrated bloc submissions favouring a conservative stance’.

Only the naïve would expect it any other way. Most Hong Kong government consultation exercises are designed in some way to reach the bureaucrats’ preferred conclusion. Those on political reform have to conform to the wishes of the sovereign power, and have a long record, dating back to the 1980s, of ‘finding’ that the population is far less enthusiastic about democracy than public opinion polls indicate.

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Hong Kong’s bizarre ‘Fujianese Against Freedom’ march

18 August 2014 | Big Lychee

When the forces that hold power organize a street demonstration against the forces who don’t hold power – that is, the government holds a march against the populace – you know something strange is happening. Despite its title, the protest had no positive aim. It was a demonstration against demonstrating. It was demanding that people stop demanding things. It was a march for silence and obedience, and acceptance of unrepresentative (not to say poor) government.

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The countdown to quasi-democracy continues

13 August 2014 | Big Lychee

The anguish draws nearer. Hong Kong establishment figures drop hints that the Chinese government will implement a ‘conservative’ nomination system for the 2017 Chief Executive election. Specifically, candidates will likely have to be endorsed by over 50% of Nomination Committee members to get on the ballot. Pro-democrats demand a far lower threshold, if not an open, public system of nomination.

No Hong Kong public figures know Beijing’s specific plans. It could be that this is about expectations management, and the political reform package due in a few weeks’ time will be more liberal than this, and everyone will be deliriously happy and dance in the streets with joy. But anyone who has been watching this drawn-out drama over the years will feel that the ‘50% threshold’ rings true and unsurprising.

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Realpolitik up-close

11 August 2014 | Big Lychee

The South China Morning Post has a columnist who regularly and tirelessly repeats much the same hand-wringing mantra: wouldn’t it be nice if everyone compromised and we had peace and harmony? She does it again today. It presupposes a political division between two sides each of whom can claim to fairly represent similarly broad camps and each of whose arguments have some validity. That might summarize debate in democracies over, say, tax cuts versus welfare spending. But it has little relevance to political reform in Hong Kong.

One side here is an autocratic and dictatorial one-party state that rules by fear and has a long record of crushing opposition by force. (It is fronted locally by various Communist loyalists, shoe-shining tycoons and supine if not mercenary bureaucrats, but that’s a façade: this is all top-down puppet-master power.) The other side is a society that insists on keeping pluralism, openness and freedom, and wants representative government as well. There is no symmetry here, and no grounds for negotiation or compromise. The ‘autocratic’ side has all the real hard power; its opponents can only hope that it perceives an interest in not beating them into a pulp, and maybe even in granting a fairer administration.

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