"I realise that some of my criticisms may be mistaken; but to refuse to criticize judgements for fear of being mistaken is to abandon criticism altogether... If any of my criticisms are found to be correct, the cause is served; and if any are found to be incorrect the very process of finding out my mistakes must lead to the discovery of the right reasons, or better reasons than I have been able to give, and the cause is served just as well."

-Mr. HM Seervai, Preface to the 1st ed., Constitutional Law of India.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A suicide for no purpose: Beijing loyalists’ self-destructive move on electoral reform package in Hong Kong

Chinese honor the memory of Qu Yuan, a poet and political activist (3-4 Century BC) on the 5th day of 5th lunar month of every year. Yuan took part in a fight to save his state against hostile take over by a neighbouring state but had to retreat and be in exile owing to orchestrated maligning of his character. He wrote poetries creating a genre of political and philosophical verses. Finishing his masterpiece, he chose to give up his life by drowning than being a witness to the loss of his state. Yuan was so loved by the people that they rushed in boats to rescue him and later threw cooked rice in water that fish spares his body.  This is a popular legend of Dragon Boat festival. The festival includes dragon boat races that replicate the haste to save the life of Yuan and eating Zongzi, cone shaped sticky rice wraps. A death for a cause, well remembered after centuries.

The political suicide of pro- establishment Hong Kong legislators just three days ahead of commemorating Qu Yuan, in relation to vote on political reform, but will go down in history as a blunder that served no purpose. The run up for reform in Hong Kong with relation to universal suffrage in electing its Chief Executive has been a long strenuous period of struggle, strain, grit and grind. All collapsed in a miscalculated walkout giving advantage to none but causing severe dent to self-worth. The fate of the truncated reform proposal that offered pseudo-democracy was pre-destined; it was bound to fail but for any last minute converts from the pan-democrats.

A short background

Electoral reform to ensure universal suffrage in electing the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR has been in vogue for sometime now. The debate has been centered on the details of the proposal. The reform offered all eligible a chance to vote but to candidates vetted by a committee packed with pro-Beijing sympathizers. The pan-democrats adopted a stance to veto the proposal in legislature.  The pro-Beijing camp meanwhile had steered a roadshow and campaign to garner support for the reform proposal. The tagline of pro-Beijing camp was - ‘pocket it’.  The pan-democrats were warned that by disapproving the reform package, they are holding the right to vote of the people of Hong Kong to ransom.

The reform was put to vote on 17th of June 2015 in a legislative council of 70 members with 43 Beijing loyalists and 27 democrats, assured to vote against the motion. Statistics indicate the predictable outcome of veto, as win require 2/3 majority. The count of vote on reform proposal was an anticipated veto but the surprising element was the margin, the motion got defeated by a whooping differential; 28 nos (one unexpected vote from the block of 43 joined the democrats) and a measly 8 yes. This surprising self-goal by the pro-establishment clique happened because of an untimely and miscommunicated staging of a walkout to facilitate voting of one member who was late to report and was on his way to the House. The walkout turned out to be partial leaving quorum for voting, resulting in a loss of opportunity for the walked out to express their loyalties to Beijing.


Fall of the reform package was inevitable. Who defeated it and how became the matter of amusement. With it crumbled the preplanned strategy of the pro-establishment in the forthcoming district election and 2016 Legislative Council elections. A major plank for them would have certainly be, how the pan-democrats snatched away the possibility to pocket the reform graciously offered by Beijing and lost an opportunity to move ahead. As a strategy to secure reform henceforward, more seats in Legislative council would have been sought. The present shoddy performance leaves less room to convincingly take out the democrats on this count.

The loyalists have exposed their political naiveté and miscalculation at a critical juncture. It shows them in poor light and cast doubt on capabilities of holding future and higher responsibilities. This also highlight that, they may be competent business people but yet to be evolved as adept politicians.

The flurry of activities that happened in the liaison office of Central Government for Hong Kong, post the fiasco clearly shows how it irked Beijing. It is sure to cost at least some their dreams of running for the post of Chief Executive or a second term in legislature.

The democrats had the last laugh. The expected defeat of the proposal was sweetened by the unanticipated gift of gaffe by the treasury benches. In long term, this episode does not contribute anything definite to achieving the ultimate aim of universal suffrage in form and substance. At the most, they might be in a position to use it as a campaign tool.  Even gaining a decisive majority in the Legislative Council is no guarantee towards democracy as it is contingent on the Central Government in China given the Basic Law of Hong Kong.


The debacle has changed nothing but for an exposé of inefficiency of a bunch of representatives with whom the destiny of Hong Kong is vested. This is an indication that the political system needs a serious relook as to who represents the people and how they are chosen.

In the backdrop of reform contest, a disquieting and radical trend of localism is perceived to be emerging. Asia’s world city is under a serious threat of turning into a parochial population. 

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