Who exactly lost in the vote over reforms in Hong Kong on Thursday? Was it
- The Pro-Beijing parties whose misunderstanding of legislative procedures apparently led to a resounding “No” vote?
- The government in Beijing which received the unexpected “No” vote?
- The chief executive of Hong Kong, who is Beijing’s hand-picked man for the job?
- The people of Hong Kong
- All of the above
- None of the above
Answers on a postcard please.
In one of the most interesting reversals in the newscaster’s cycle, an expected “Yes” vote albeit without mustering the sufficient 2/3rd majority required to reform the Hong Kong SAR’s election process for chief executive instead turned to a “No” vote when a voting majority of pro-Beijing legislators walked out of the assembly to “wait for a latecomer” who had been stuck in traffic. They had expected that with 28+ legislators waiting outside, the vote would be postponed but instead, it went ahead with the result that of the 37 people who stayed back, 28 voted “No” and 8 voted “yes”; with one apparently not voting. It should instead have been 36 voting “Yes” and 28 voting “No” at the very least even if the others hadn’t turned up.
An initial reading of this story suggested a “with friends like these” angle, i.e. with the sheer incompetence shown by hand-picked legislators of the parties backing Beijing, the pro-democratic parties apparently won a vote to subvert the Beijing approved “democratic reforms” to Hong Kong.
Then again, this is Asia so we have to think first derivatives. What would the consequences of a “Yes” vote have been:
- Without the requisite 2/3rd majority the vote would not have passed anyway, stalling Beijing sponsored reforms. Effectively, status quo remains
- With an official “Yes” vote, there would have been impetus for popular protests including the Occupy protest which enthralled global media last year
- There would be more comments from US and European politicians – especially the lot declaring themselves to run for US President next year
None of that would be particularly appealing for Beijing really.
So then, let’s look at the potential roadmap of consequences of the “No” vote winning:
- Hong Kong people are left with no reforms now i.e. the status quo favouring Beijing wherein the Chief Executive is actually selected by a small coterie of important local people remains in place
- Beijing can claim to be “insulted” by the result, which given the reliance that the Hong Kong economy has on China in terms of trade and tourism alone, is sufficient to provide impetus for parties seen advocating further “concessions” to Beijing in the months ahead to mollify the authorities there
- Resulting pressure from the media (big business controlled) would put the pro-democracy camp on the back foot; removing any risks of popular unrest such as the ungainly Occupy protests of last year which were reportedly embarrassing for Beijing
So the end result of a victory looks rather a lot like a defeat. Like I wrote in the title, your aunt is actually your uncle.