A broker emerges to bridge electoral divide

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2007, 12:00am

Enlarging the functional constituency franchise from some 215,000 to around 450,000 under a regrouped model for functional polls in the 2008 Legislative Council election sounds a small step towards universal suffrage.

But in the face of a deadlock over the fate of functional constituency elections, the first step towards the abolition of the indirectly elected seats championed by Anson Chan Fang On-sang and her core group is set to have a profound impact on the political battle.

The pan-democratic camp, which has insisted on universal suffrage by 2012, has no good reason to refuse Mrs Chan's core group's three-step model towards the abolition of all functional constituency seats by 2016 if this proves not to be politically viable in 2012, which is likely to be the case.

Meanwhile, the conservative camp will find it difficult to dismiss the blueprint as a non-starter. For one, it is already in line with the gradualist approach towards the goal of universal suffrage set out in the Basic Law. Importantly, the novel idea of democratising the existing functional constituencies before a total abolition by 2016 has provided a viable, practical solution to the key question: who should be the first to face the axe?

By regrouping the constituencies into 10 - and then three in 2012 - the idea of 'sharing the pain' among vested interests sounds like a politically feasible approach to help break the deadlock.

That, admittedly, will only be made possible if there is strong political will among Beijing and Hong Kong leaders to resist the small, but vocal and powerful, voice of opposition against the abolition of functional polls.

Seeking to bridge the divide between the pro-democratic and conservative forces, Mrs Chan's compromise model stands a very good chance of securing considerable support from society - even if it means another delay of nine years.

As her blueprint has illustrated, she has carefully positioned herself as a broker trying to strike a deal over a roadmap and timetable on universal suffrage largely acceptable to all.