Meditation on Small Circles

I’m over the Indian Ocean, 2,000 miles away from Hong Kong, but I am flying Cathay Pacific, so it’s like I never left. On the airplane’s TV screen is the new Canto-comedy “My Mother Is a Belly Dancer,” followed by the latest news feed from Hong Kong’s Cable TV. To my surprise, the report is All Alan Leong All The Time. (Leong is the Civic Party barrister who has volunteered to be the democrats’ guaranteed-to-lose standard bearer in Hong Kong’s upcoming “election.”)
    Shots of smiling Civic Party members, Audrey Eu in an oh-so-chic pink coat, waving and raising  hands in victory salutes. Closeups of the candidate smiling, shaking hands with The People. It all looks like….
    Well, it looks like a real election being covered by journalists in some place where the elections are, in fact, a true representation of the public’s mandate.
    Why has the usually pro-establishment Hong Kong media become so enthusiastic about Leong and his race to nowhere? Watching the feed for a second time, with the sound off, it suddenly hits me: covering the elections of national leaders is one of the signature events in journalism, world-wide. There’s probably even a separate course on it in j-school. And this is the first time all these young, eager HK journalism majors have had the chance to do it, for real.
    For real–sort of.
   The other night before I left HK, I got into a discussion with my friend David about whether Leong’s candidacy was a good or bad move for Hong Kong’s democrats. David thinks it was a good idea, and that Long Hair is wrong to be out there waving protest placards in Alan Leong’s face. It looks bad, and makes the democrats look disunited, weak.
   I said I wasn’t sure. On one hand, Long Hair and the LSD party hold the moral high ground. They’re saying there’s no point in dignifying a farce by participating in it.
    On the other hand, I thought the Civic Party’s canny old-fashioned politicking,  which earned them enough votes to get 100 of their electors elevated into the “small circle”, was pretty cool. It’s a great reality check for Donald Tsang and the bureaucrats in Beijing.  Hong Kongers are ready to fight for democracy. And they know how to play hardball.
    So I was officially neutral on Alan Leong–I was happy he had pulled off the nomination, and also happy Long Hair and his cronies were out there protesting the election system and the whole farce, Alan Leong included.
    I was neutral, that is, until today. Maybe there is a clarity that comes with being 36,000 feet and thousands of miles from HK, but as I watched the Cable TV shots of the cheering Civic Party, I realized this: if it looks like an election on TV, then a lot of people are going to begin to believe it is an election. And that is not going to help the cause of universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
    Long Hair is right.
    And I must go now, into a country of nearly a billion people, most of them far less well-off and educated than the average Hong Konger. All of them with the right to vote.


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