Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

It's a pity our dissidents can't compromise

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2007, 12:00am

At the time of writing, the National People's Congress Standing Committee has not made its ruling on the next stage of Hong Kong's constitutional development. Outside, the temperature is dropping and some second-tier members of the Democratic Party are doing a marathon hunger strike outside the legislature. While I do not want to provoke them into doing something more desperate, I have to say that people are not too impressed with their cheap theatrics.

I am still optimistic that the Standing Committee will make some sort of commitment to universal suffrage in 2017, but whatever the outcome, it will be final. Qiao Xiaoyang , the deputy secretary-general of the Standing Committee, will fly here to explain its decision. We want the central government to listen to our voices, but we also have to heed their concerns. Giving up a confrontational approach will bring us closer together, helping us reach a mutually acceptable solution.

But let's face it: political issues, including universal suffrage, are seldom very high on people's agendas. And now that the economy is booming, they are falling even lower on the wish list. People are sick and tired of the prolonged bickering on universal suffrage, which gets us nowhere; they want a compromise to put an end to it.

The dissidents are well aware of that, and this is why they have stopped organising the routine New Year's march. Most of our pan-democratic lawmakers have shunned protests in recent days, preferring to be with their families. What we see now - the hunger strike - is only a sideshow performed by minor politicians aspiring to a bigger role.

But we cannot expect our dissidents to put up their hands and surrender. Nor will they work out a compromise with the establishment, because we do not have a culture of doing that. In an atmosphere that demands political correctness, compromise is a sign of wavering and disloyalty. Instead, the dissidents will blast Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen for abandoning 2012 as a possible date for double universal suffrage, in his report to the Standing Committee. That will preserve their political chastity. They will then claim credit for nailing down universal suffrage in 2017, portraying it as the result of their long struggle.

Predictably, the dissidents will repeat their 'devil is in the details' strategy to put up stumbling blocks every step of the way for the proposed election arrangements for 2012, and later for 2017. As these proposals need a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council to gain acceptance, our dissidents will hold the trump card if they can stick together as they did in 2005. If they win over public opinion, they'll veto the related bills again and blame it on the government.

But public opinion was not on their side in 2005, and it will be even trickier to swing it this time. Anyway, that will not prevent our dissidents from trying.

Universal suffrage for the Legco election is another hornet's nest. Functional constituencies are very sticky. You cannot get rid of them all at once because they won't vote for their own mass political extinction. And if you want to phase them out in stages, everybody will say 'yes', but nobody will want to be the first to disappear.

We will have to work it out among ourselves. Should we fail, we will have only ourselves to blame. Again, that won't prevent our dissidents from using this as an excuse to yell and march, knowing full well that such antics will get us, and them, nowhere.

People are beginning to understand that our dissidents are not democrats, and that they do not really care whether we are moving towards universal suffrage. All they want is an issue they can use to rally support and get themselves elected over and over again.

But people can see through this. Soon our dissident lawmakers will be deserted by disillusioned voters, and they will lose their jobs. Many of them will not last until 2017.

Lau Nai-keung is a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate