Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A bold new step for democracy in Hong Kong

Earlier today (December 21, 2005), the proposals in the government bill based on the Report #5 on constitutional reform was voted down by the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, with less than a two-thirds majority approval. Many people considered this to be a defeat for democratic progress, a disappointing standstill, or even a lose-lose situation. I do not believe it has been such a case at all.

The unraveling of the whole controversy has been an interesting struggle between the various stakeholders. It is most important for us to note is that, more often than not, the truth is not what meets the eye. I would venture to say that most stakeholders came out ahead as winners -- in truth or at least in their own minds -- with this "defeat" of the bill.

First, on the surface, the pro-democracy camp has "won" by sticking together and doing something they said they would do. Most importantly today, a truly terrible proposal has been turned back. The government proposal has genuinely been a step _backward_ for democratic progress, rather than an advancement that they have been repeatedly trying to fool the people of Hong Kong. But how can any bill that increases the number of functional constituency seats in Legco be any more democracy, when it is clear that it will be forever harder to remove them in the end, when you need to convince the majority of 35 functional constituencies to vote themselves out of Legco, rather than 30?

Then, what about the pro-government parties, chiefly the Liberal Party (LP) and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB)? While these sorry characters would really not want to see Chief Executive Donald Tsang be awarded a victory with a passage of this bill, they would not dare to vote against it. How convenient and lovely it is that the stupidly stubborn or stubbornly stupid (or both) pan-democrats help to wreck the party and be the bad guys? Now, with a possibly weaker Tsang, LP and DAB may think that they have a better chance to become a factor in the 2007 CE election.

But more importantly, DAB and LP took this precious opportunity to smear the pan-democratic camp to the max, and picture the latter as preventing progressing to democracy. The sad part is that many if not most people believe in them. So, by inflicting damage on the pan-democrats, especially the Democratic Party, the DAB and LP are probably the biggest winner out of this, while the pan-democrats only won some, but also lost some in this episode.

Next, Donald Tsang himself. Outwardly he made it looked like he really wants this bill to pass. In reality, he doesn't care and he may even actively want it to fail. Why? Look at what he should think and what he actually did. First, if the proposal to expand the election committee from 800 to 1600 materializes, would you think it will be easier or harder for him to win in 2007? Obviously, a smaller election committee will be let Tsang have a good night sleep.

And, what Tsang did. He waited until two days before D-Day to put forth his final offer, which was to remove one-third of the appointed District Board seats in 2008 but with virtually no further commitment to totally remove them or when. He is not stupid, and I am sure he knew in advance that this offer must be rejected by the democrats. Indeed, that was the whole idea. He gave his opponent a poison pill that he knows the other guy will never swallow, but once that his opponent will be further accused by the gullible "public" that they gave up on the best chance to start removing the appointed DB seats.

Tsang knows as long as he comes out of this defeated bill with a clear message to blame the democrats, he will be in control until 2007 and that's all he needs. Even Beijing can't do nothing about him. So, he made sure he refused the last stepping down chance for the democrats, and further burden on them one more unswallowable poison pill, just to be 200% sure.

Even with the central government, they also don't mind seeing the bill defeated. After all, even if we trust that the central government supports universal suffrage in the end, there is no reason to believe that Beijing should want it sooner for us. So, if you people in Hong Kong fight among yourselves and nothing gets moving, Beijing shouldn't mind at all, and may indeed like this outcome best.

Finally, the people of Hong Kong also came out better -- or at least no worse -- today with this bill defeated, because they don't have to deal with 35 FCs, but only (still) 30. If only we can see through all the half-truths and even lies by the government, DAB and LP, we will win even more by not believing in them the next time.

So, all in all, this is an almost WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN situation for all. The pan-democrats, DAB, LP, the Hong Kong and central governmnts got just what they really wanted for Christmas. For the people of Hong Kong, if only we see through the smokescreen and learn our biggest political lesson, we would also win by becoming more political savvy -- something we must be if we are to exercise our power to fight and gain more democracy in future, because we just can't rely on this government and the politicians.

If someone has lost something, then it would be the pan-democrats, who have lost some public points here because of the intentional and successful smearing campaign by their political opponents, including the DAB, LP and the Hong Kong government. But still, it is not a total loss for them, because at least they stood by their principles and did what was really right for Hong Kong.

If the pan-democrats really think this was a sad day for democratic progress, then their real problem was even they had been just "waiting" for good things to happen to them, rather than coming out fighting and making deals. If anyone still accuses the pan-democrats of making Hong Kong's democratic advancement "stepping on the same spot", they should declare that Hong Kong has just made its first step forward in the direction of real, not phony, democracy. Instead of a candlelight vigil and tears, which they held tonight, they should have a band play in a celebration party for Hong Kong.

Tsang called for "democracy heroes" to come out to vote to pass the bill, in his last theatric move (although as my logic goes, I do not believe he meant it, but it was harmless to say it when he knew he would not get it). I believe the pan-democrats became accidental heroes anyway by voting against the bill. That means, they may have done the right things for the wrong reasons, and they did not even know it.

If only the people of Hong Kong will learn from this episode to look at politics beyond the face value, then we will be an even bigger winner from this. Don't believe in just what they all say. Most of the times they are meant to mislead anyway. That's Politics 101. In truth, we may have just made an important progress toward more democracy in Hong Kong today. To that, thanks to the democracy hero of 12-21-05!


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