I was slightly surprised to learn that some friends in Hong Kong couldn’t bring themselves to vote in last weekend’s special election. The election was forced when five pro-democracy legislators resigned their seats in protest over the direction of a constitutional reform project being shepherded by the Beijing-supervised Hong Kong government.
The thinking behind the resignations, and the elections they triggered, was to provide Hong Kong citizens with a way to demonstrate their support – once again – for full democracy in Hong Kong as soon as possible. It was a risky move, not because the pro-democracy candidates might not be reelected (they were handily), but because low voter turn out -- which occurred, considering only about half the normal number came to the polls -- would be interpreted as a sign of weakness in the pro-democracy camp.
The most brilliant thing of all about the way China has controlled Hong Kong under “one country, two systems,” is how Hong Kong’s democrats get the blame for the lack of progress on democracy. But this is unfair. The legislature is a trap for democrats. Despite consistently polling a clear majority among Hong Kong’s voters, the allocation of seats disproportionately favors un-democratically selected, pro-Beijing candidates who can be counted on to stall and obstruct full democracy.
The Hong Kong appointed government does a great job of pretending to be engaged in a process planning how Hong Kong’s people might conceivably be able one day to exercise democratic rights. They are now preparing a proposal, to be voted on by the legislature this summer, that does not commit the government to full democracy.
The attitude of Beijing and its proxies was nicely illustrated by the failure of chief executive Donald Tsang, and his cabinet member for constitutional affairs, to vote on Saturday. They were no doubt observing Beijing’s marching orders, which encouraged a boycott.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by my friends' protest apathy. They and other people in Hong Kong have repeatedly voted (and marched) to show their support for democracy. They will again. The problem is that Hong Kong’s affairs are not determined by such votes. It would be nice if the U.S. Congress and the State Department showed interest in the matter, perhaps by suggesting that the democratic “reform” package be improved, or shelved.