Shut up about democracy for a moment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 January, 2009, 12:00am

Would it make any difference if we started the consultation on the voting methods for elections in 2012 today or in the fourth quarter of the year? Yes and no. No, it will not make any difference to the final outcome, and to Hong Kong's democratic development, whenever the consultation starts, as long as there is enough time for it and to prepare for the 2012 elections. Therefore, any time this year is just as good.

Yes, it does matter because we should stop all unnecessary squabbling associated with the consultation and let our chief executive concentrate on the troubled economy. This is especially important in the initial phase of the crisis when we do not know what is going to happen and are figuring out what to do. Adding the element of economic uncertainty to the political uncertainty is definitely not good for democratic development. Any true democrat would certainly welcome the postponement of the consultation.

Dissidents, on the other hand, would react differently. They never fail to grasp any opportunity to steal the limelight and make trouble. Their reaction to the postponement of the consultation is as expected. Dissidents are dissidents, and they will never change.

Fortunately, the majority of citizens are not dissidents. They know when our officials are being stupid and when they are doing the right thing. This time, they know it is not the right time to start the debate on the voting methods in 2012. What matters is that there is universal suffrage in 2017 for the chief executive election and in 2020 for all the legislature, as prescribed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee, and this decision remains unchanged. No matter what our dissidents do, and how loud they shout, they are not going to get much support from the public.

I am not worried about the effect that the postponement will have on the size of the annual July 1 big march. If there are more people participating in the rally, it will be because of the economy, and perhaps some other mistakes made by government officials - not due to the postponement of the consultation. On the other hand, since the economic crisis is so serious, even if the crowd was swollen by those protesting at the postponement, the government could easily blame it on the economy and get away with it. Making a big fuss about the postponement will not bring any benefit to the dissidents' cause.

It's the economy, stupid. Unemployment is rising, and we do not know how high it will go. If I were a dissident, I would make a big fuss about this issue. But, again, most people know that unemployment is not caused by the government. In fact, in the aftermath of the financial tsunami, there is not much our government can do to relieve the situation, other than speeding up construction projects.

Fortunately, in addition to more tourists from the mainland, under new measures, many Shenzhen residents can freely visit Hong Kong. Overnight, we have at least 2 million more regular consumers, in addition to our 7 million inhabitants, and this should be quite a boost to our sagging retail and restaurant businesses. This will retain a lot of employment, especially for the less educated and unskilled. As for our professionals, they will enjoy more opportunities to participate in the prosperity of the Pearl River Delta under the new promulgations from the State Council.

Once again, our benevolent grandaddy is looking after us, and we are all aware of that. Apart from being deeply grateful, most of us are not in the mood to complain. There are very tough times ahead; will our dissidents shut up for a moment and let us work out how to keep our jobs and make ends meet? Don't worry, democracy will come, and it will come on time.

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