While Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung gets his ritual pat on the head from Party General Secretary Xi Jinping in Beijing, the city’s pro-democracy legislators prepare a motion of impeachment against him. Against Tung Chee-hwa in late 2003 on grounds of incompetence, or against Donald Tsang a couple of years ago on grounds of collusion with property tycoons, such a stunt could have roused and inspired the populace. As it is, the exercise will be as embarrassing as it is futile. At best, it will be of passing interest as a theoretical constitutional curio (how often in Chinese history do motions to impeach happen?).
I suppose the pro-dems have to take every chance of unity they can get. It would be in character for them to soon start falling out over the issue of political reform. Under Donald Tsang, constitutional reform became an indigestible policy hairball. His Constitutional Affairs Minister, Stephen Lam, became renowned for expertly parroting bland inanities as part of a grand stalling exercise designed to keep the existing distribution of political power intact while presenting a slight appearance of change.
Lam’s successor, Raymond Tam, has the same civil service background. The government has now named Lau Kong-wah as his Assistant Secretary. Lau is a Democratic Alliance for the Betterment Etc of HK veteran who lost rather handsomely in his attempt to win a seat in Legco last September. As a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party’s local front, he is quite an audaciously partisan choice. The pro-democrats predictably see this as an unfair consolation prize for losing the election, and foresee trouble ahead if Lau favours his own side and shuns them during the coming phony public consultation and horse-trading over election systems.
That is too simplistic. As with the DAB’s Tsang Yok-sing serving even-handedly as president of Legco, it would be counterproductive for Lau to be seen to discriminate against pan-dems. The DAB resents and envies the opposition’s role as representing mainstream Hong Kong and having the moral high ground.
But it is a complex appointment. It is hard not to wonder who really wears the pants in the Environment Bureau, where Secretary KS Wong seems to a casual outside eye to be overshadowed by the better-qualified but (to Beijing) politically awkward Christine Loh. Similarly in the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, you have to wonder how much Secretary Raymond Tam will be in charge when his assistant is a DAB stalwart, loyal to the country’s monopoly ruling party – which is also final arbiter of Hong Kong’s electoral system. The difference is that, unlike with air pollution, Beijing ultimately calls the shots on this subject. Assuming Tam is as doggedly loyal as his predecessor, we can be sure that he and Lau will have most points covered when it comes to lobbying pro-Beijing and establishment forces in Legco and stage-managing the public consultations.
This is important because Beijing has grudgingly conceded nominal universal suffrage for the next CE election in 2017. Beijing will determine the package; candidacy would inevitably be off-limits to non-loyalists, but by past standards it would be a sort-of meaningful step forward. Typically, we would expect the pro-dems to be split between idealists and pragmatists, but many have indicated than any sort of guided democracy will be unacceptable. The Democratic Party’s Emily Lau sounds pretty tough on the issue. And Beijing might actually have an interest in unifying the opposition camp against a relatively serious reform package.
Failure to deliver would be a huge setback to Beijing/DAB’s hopes for a more appreciative and adoring ex-colony. But failure to deliver because the pro-dems vetoed a package that conservative lawmakers supported only reluctantly would be the ultimate win-win: keep the current political structure and turn the city against the opposition.