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    Greater China
     Jan 11, 2008
Hong Kong on the march - again
By Augustine Tan

HONG KONG - Hong Kong people will be on the march again on Sunday to protest the spurious democracy advancement package handed down by the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee in Beijing last month.

But neither Beijing nor the organizers, the Civil Human Rights Front, is keeping their fingers crossed. The Front has officially told the police to expect a 20,000 turnout, a very far cry from the half million who marched in 2003 to protest Article 23 (a Draconian Beijing-backed anti-sedition law), express dissatisfaction with

former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and call for universal suffrage.

The surprise is in the ready acceptance by many of the constitutional development package. Before the NPC's decision, successive opinion polls had shown that more than 60% of Hong Kong people favored full universal suffrage for the elections of their chief executive and all members of the Legislative Council by 2012. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen reported to Beijing accordingly but, nevertheless, recommended staggered introduction of universal suffrage, for chief executive in 2012 and the whole legislature in 2017.

The NPC Standing Committee has allowed for possible "direct" election of the chief executive in 2017 and, perhaps, direct poll for the whole legislature in 2020. But both enterprises are hedged in with so many ifs and buts that there is no guarantee of Hong Kong getting anything at all.

For the direct election of the chief executive the NPC Standing Committee requires Tsang to secure enough support from a legislature dominated by pro-Beijing and entrepreneurial elements that are opposed to universal suffrage as well as the support of a much larger body, the Election Committee, to create a vetting committee that will ensure whoever gets elected will be approved by the central government.

In other words, Tsang is being asked to create a fool-proof system for the "direct" election of a chief executive fully acceptable and accountable to Beijing.

Universal suffrage for the full legislature is a huge "maybe" even if the current legislators, Tsang and Hong Kong citizens can come up with a method to guarantee the election of 30 functional constituency members (half the legislature) by universal suffrage without diluting their unquestioning support of Beijing edicts.

As yet there is nothing certain about any of these moves because they are subject to further discussions, amendments to electoral laws and agreement on how to go about all these matters.

The only certainty is that Hong Kong will get exactly what Beijing wants it to have, which is exactly zilch.

People have begun to wake up to the realization that the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, has been worded in such a way that full democracy as the world understands it will remain a pipe dream long after the Basic Law has outlived its usefulness.

Nevertheless there are "experts" both inside and outside Hong Kong who will go along with the view that everything is going "in accordance with the Basic Law principle of gradual and orderly progress".

That's one refrain Beijing has never tired of singing. Lest anyone is tempted to refer to this as the Beijing lexicon meaning of "eternity", Tsang warned against testing the Central Government’s patience with more criticisms of the NPC Standing Committee's decisions.

As if on cue, mainland authorities announced a freeze on exports of wheat flour to the city, raising fears of a shortage by month's end. Thousands upon thousands of noodle shops and bakeries rely on the 100,000 tones or more than 60% of annual imports from the mainland.

However, after two days of pleadings the authorities relented and promised continued deliveries.

This may be just a coincidence and too much should not be read into the incident, but it was still enough to remind Hong Kong people how things stand a decade after the handover and the transformation of China from an abysmally poor country to the world’s most powerful economic development engine in 30 years. Not long ago mainlanders were grabbing for Hong Kong dollars. Today they spurn it.

The impotence of the pro-democracy camp in these circumstances is underscored by the call for a general strike by a Civic Party leader Ronny Tong Ka-wah on the eve of the NPC Standing Committee's announcement to back their demand for "double universal suffrage by 2012".

Under pressure from his own people who fear further loss of public support in crucial Legislative Council elections in the autumn, Tong subsequently back-pedaled and said he was only thinking aloud about what "radicals" might want to do.

This backtracking notwithstanding, the NPC decisions have set the agenda for those elections - democracy now.

But to achieve full democracy the pro-democracy camp must win two-thirds of the seats - impossible now or under any of the conditions set down by the Standing Committee.

The only thing left is for Hong Kong people to march - and mourn, hence the call to dress in black or white for the Sunday march from Victoria Park to the Office of the central government in the territory.

Augustine Tan is a freelance journalist based in Hong Kong.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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