Sunday, June 20, 2010

Democracy in Hong Kong redux

Historically speaking, there's not much justification for a British person to be complaining about the lack of democracy in Hong Kong.  After all, it didn't seem to perturb anyone that much until we were getting to the end of our 150-year lease, when all of a sudden various people began to make noises about how important democracy is, and how the people of Hong Kong should get access to it.

Democracy is a good thing, or as Churchill put it, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".  Still, if it is a good thing, maybe you can have too much of a good thing, and so the ruling elite in Hong Kong have tried to ration out the democracy so nobody gets too much of it at once.

Or at least, pesky poor people who have to live in cages in Kowloon don't get too much of it, because Heaven (or Beijing) knows how uppity they might get.  Instead, there's a Legislative Committee that is partly elected by the citizens, partly through industry nominations, and partly through Beijing telling them what to do.  With emphasis on the latter two, as far as I can make out.

Various people have been pointing out that this isn't really democracy (although I suppose if you lived in the seventeenth century in England and you did have the vote, you wouldn't feel that was such a problem), to which the government has responded that it is, and people should stop making a fuss.  Donald Tsang, the bow-tied Chief Executive of Hong Kong, has been making public appearances in shopping malls (which seem to involve him handing out t-shirts and then being jeered at by pro-democracy campaigners) but this is only one part of a triple-pronged approach to solving the problem of democracy.

As well as Donald going on walk-about, there's lots of television advertising (the government has put out the equivalent of 15 million HK$ in adverts recently), which I can't comment on much, because I only watch television at the gym, and then only when there's so much sweat running down my face that I can't really see.  In an unguarded moment I did catch sight of one strange infomercial.

There's a ditsy girl who wants her mother to make her a dress for her prom night.  Day after day she sees her mother working hard in the shop, but with no sign of the dress.  Our poor heroine looks ever more concerned, until the night before the prom, she finds the dress, made perfectly to fit her.  And then BANG, the screen switches to a caption saying that the Hong Kong Government is working towards democratic reform.  And everything will be alright, honest.  Your mother cares for you very much, but she's very, very busy, so please don't make any noise to disturb her, because in any case everything will just work out fine.

Finally, if terrible television spots won't work, they've fallen back on pork-barrel politics.  Well, to be fair, seafood dinner politics.  Hence Victoria Park was filled with people with nothing better to do yesterday, bussed down from the New Territories or told there was a bus tour with a free music concert, as long as they came and sang along with the right slogan.  And they could have $200 and a free seafood meal for their contribution.

I'm not sure that you have a clear understanding or commitment to democratic processes if you're driven mainly by the acquisition of shrimps without having to spend any money.  Or if your commitment to the event is based on being paid $200.

However, there are some good things about this.

By cluttering up the streets of Tin Hau, people realise how bad the traffic is.  After nobody could travel around Hong Kong without being stuck in a traffic jam for an hour yesterday, everyone is bound to realise we are prisoners of our cars, disabled by them and not enabled, and thus we should stop building more roads and concentrate on better town planning and public transport projects.  Hmm.  Actually, no.  We should just spend a few million dollars more on a rail link to Guangzhou that doesn't actually go to Guangzhou, and carry on covering everything else with concrete while building enormous blocks of flats everywhere to block out the sun.  And keep driving cars.

People who have a lot of seafood to dispose of will know in the future the government will pay for it. There is a clear arbitrage opportunity here, that I'm intending to exploit via a freezer full of past-its-eat-by-date jumbo shrimps and a hastily organised pro-'democracy' march that nobody wants to attend.

Pork-barrel politics these days mainly involves giving lots of money to industrialists to spend on expensive projects, without there actually being a genuine barrel full of pig products anywhere.  At least the seafood dinners weren't a metaphor.  (Although some of the people interviewed by the SCMP hadn't got their dinner, or indeed been given $200 ... curiouser and curiouser)


Post a Comment