Posts Tagged ‘Hong Kong’

Whatever you think of the government’s proposed “reform” of the electoral system it is surely depressing to contemplate the barrage of propaganda, argument and lies to which we shall be subjected in coming weeks.

The question to “pocket” or not to “pocket” is one to which there is no single answer. The argument boils down to different predictions of the future. If we do A then X will occurr, if we do B then Y will happen. Or vice versa. But the future is essentially unknowable. Even the predictions of experts, research has shown, do little better than chance. Clearly people are choosing particular predictions for reasons of their own. Careful considerations of fact and logic have nothing to do with it. Many of the predictions insulate themselves from close scrutiny by hiding in metaphors. So Carrie Lam says Hong Kong is “at a crossroads” and could fall into a “political time warp”. Whatever that means.

It is distressing to find academics, who as seekers after knowledge should be aware of its limits, playing this game. And even more distressing to find them lending the spurious gloss of learning to fallacies popular among the local disciples of despotism. Consider the argument, seriously advanced by two of the op-ed page prostitutes last week, that if it can be shown that a majority of the public supports the government plan, then all legislators have a democratic obligation to vote for it. The usual objection to this comes from Edmund Burke: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” I am not a great fan of Mr Burke. But it is surely true that the first obligation of a legislator is to do the right thing for Hong Kong, whether that is currently popular or not. Actually this argument is based on a fallacy, because it is far from clear that a majority of Hong Kong people want the reform to pass. Both sides have managed to run polls indicating support for their views. The question implies the answer. Nobody is going to say “no” to universal suffrage or “yes” to fixed elections. But these words describe the same thing.

A more fundamental objection is that the drafters of the Basic Law could easily have devised a system in which all legislators needed the support of a majority, and could then have been expected to vote in the weathercock way which Lam fans now urge. But the Basic Law deliberately sought to have a Legco in which a wide variety of interests and views were represented. Clearly a system with real estate and banking functional constituencies was not intended to reflect the public’s views in a simple majoritarian way. Why should it do so now? Moreover the requirement that a change in the electoral arrangement requires a two-thirds majority in the chamber clearly implies a more demanding objective than majority support in the community. If a “super-majority” of this kind is required we must suppose that the law drafters had in mind a requirement that a proposed change should not just be acceptable to 51 per cent of the population, but should be widely and generally supported. If large numbers of elected members are prepared to vote against it then that requirement has not been met. It is ironic that the people who are most adamant about the need for changes to conform to the Basic Law are most contemptuous of its provisions in their efforts to get the changes approved. The electoral system was designed, we are often assured, to ensure the representation of many groups and interests. Those who despise sham elections are a substantial group. The system works!

Actually there is a fundamental hypocrisy in the argument that legislators should follow public opinion, because the people offering this do not apply it elsewhere. If legislators were mere implementers of the popular will they would long since, to take a simple example, have voted C.Y. Leung out of office. Mr Leung’s lack of popularity is so well-known that some supporters of the government reforms use his prospects of reelection as a threat. If we keep the present system we will have Lufsig again! I have not seen any criticism of legislators on this score from the people now urging the democratic need for a vote which goes with the public will. It is an argument of convenience, wielded when the polls go one way and dropped when they go the other. Those offering it do not even accept the obvious corollary that if the polls fail to show a clear majority for the “reforms” then all conscientious councillors should vote against them.

Another argument we are going to hear too much of is that the government’s proposals are “a compromise”. This is a word which has a long history in this context. all of it depressing. A compromise is a situation in which two people with different ideas or purposes make some roughly equal sacrifice to reach agreement. So if I offer you $20,000 for your car and you demand $40,000 then an agreement to pay something in the region of $30,000 can be regarded as a compromise. As far as political reform is concerned many compromises have been offered. Some people, having seen one compromise rejected, have offered another one. The one thing which all these suggestions have in common is that they have been rejected. Some were rejected on the grounds that they would violate the Chinese constitution, implausibly depicted as a virgin for whom this would be a new experience. Some were rejected on the grounds that they violated the Basic Law. Some were rejected on the grounds that pro-government legislators were no longer in the mood after Occupy Central. Some were rejected on the bizarre basis that they had not been greeted with great enthusiasm by the pan-democrats.

So there has been no compromise. The consultations were as bogus as the envisaged elections. Nothing was changed. There have been no concessions. Mr Leung may be right in supposing that there is no prospect of concessions in the future. Certainly there have been none so far. So the people who are still calling for compromise are out of time. Compromise is not on the menu. What you are asking for is surrender.

Finally a word for those unfortunate Post reporters whose task it is to find anonymous supporters for the government line. I understand people might not wish to have their names attached to this, but please keep the vague characterisations plausible. We were told the other day that the upcoming plan had been endorsed by a “top diplomat in Hong Kong”. Bullshit. There are no top diplomats in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not a capital and does not have embassies. Consuls-general have limited functions and diplomacy is not among them. Being a consul-general is an honourable pursuit and no doubt some of the younger ones will go on to higher things but they are not, during their time here, top diplomats.


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