Civilised politics is the art of compromise

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 January, 2009, 12:00am

I have no issue with my old friend Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, the Civic Party lawmaker whose motion in the Legislative Council to abolish all functional constituencies was defeated. For the record, I was against functional constituencies from the very start when the idea was embraced by the self-appointed democrats. But I would like to point out that the legal foundation of Hong Kong's constitutional development is not the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Though Ms Ng is a bona fide barrister, she is by no means an expert on international law. It was Britain which entered a reservation to the application of Article 25 of the ICCPR - which says every citizen should have an equal opportunity to stand for election - and it is still in effect. London is the only party that could rescind that reservation. However, since it did not do so before the handover, it is not entitled to do so now. Should China wish to do so, this clause would have to apply to the entire country. And China still has to ratify the convention.

Probably because of this, Beijing specifically mentioned universal suffrage when drafting the Basic Law.

So, people should be careful on what they base their arguments. If they insist on adhering to the convention, logically there can be no universal suffrage unless and until all Chinese can enjoy it. But, if you build your case on the Basic Law, it is necessary to proceed according to the relevant clauses and the National People's Congress Standing Committee decision on Hong Kong's constitutional development. You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

This point has been made repeatedly, but our dissidents never seem to understand it or respect the Basic Law and the Standing Committee's decision. Charging ahead with sit-ins, and the like will get us nowhere. If they want to change the rules, why not try to change the convention, instead? If people like Ms Ng and I, who have a healthy disdain for functional constituencies, want to get rid of them, then the pan-democrats should follow the rules and put forward their arguments in the forthcoming consultation, or at another appropriate moment. In the end, as we are all democrats now; the majority view prevails.

At the moment, our dissidents are entitled to freely express their views, and they do not have to take to the streets. Some argue that rallies and demonstrations are the only way to express themselves.

However, crowding out rational deliberation with populist action is a dangerous habit. Everything is then crudely reduced to black and white, like and dislike, good and bad, with nothing in between and very little room for compromise.

With this logic, compromise is deemed to be a lack of moral integrity, and a betrayal of principles. This is not the type of politics for Hong Kong; we do not want to become another Thailand. Most citizens here prefer rational debate to a show of force, and the latter would only alienate the majority.

Civilised politics is the art of arriving at a good compromise that is a win-win for all stakeholders. This kind of politics can only be fostered in an environment that encourages careful research, open and rational debate, and meticulous lobbying.

As politicians, the dissidents are simply unresourceful. Their actions will win headlines, but they are counterproductive to democratic development.

Now that Hong Kong, like the rest of the world, is entering a deep depression, worse than we have experienced before, things are getting more unstable by the day, and could easily flare up on any pretext. We should therefore be especially careful, as such an eruption would only make matters worse. We should keep our cool and stress rationality and compromise all the more. If we are reckless, it is our wallets and purses that are most likely to be hurt, and for nothing.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development