Politics of change
Whether the Democratic Party's decision yesterday will cool the heat it has been feeling over what is supposed to be the pan-democrats' 'new democratic movement' - en masse resignation - remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that this whole debate, not on constitutional reform but on how to reject the government's proposal, has dragged on for so long - and the pan-democrats' fights have been so fierce - that it is time to move on. Lawmakers who have yearned for months to quit should be allowed to do just that.
The answer to whether the resignation plan (intended to be seen as a referendum) will work can only be found after the plan has been carried out - albeit at the hefty cost of HK$150 million to the public purse. But, for all the resources already spent by civil society discussing the pros and cons of resignation, on whether it will or won't work, and all the drama over terminology, it almost certainly makes sense to carry on with it. In this way, we will see whether all the moral posturing and political cost-benefit analyses have really been worth it.
At the very least, if allowing legislators to quit will turn some of the community's focus back to responding to the government's reform package, then the HK$150 million cost will have been well worth it. With or without the lawmakers' resignations, the public consultation exercise will end in mid-February. The community simply cannot afford to allow the debate over the five seats in the legislature to carry on any longer.
Part of the community's discussion must come back to the proposal to introduce five new functional constituency seats, which the government has proposed should be filled, and elected, by directly elected district councillors. If the community can finally devote some of its attention to weighing the seats' pros and cons, and their potential effectiveness in the battle to achieve universal suffrage, then there is hope that the city may see real progress in democratisation.
Interestingly, if we look beyond local politics and see what has taken centre stage in international politics over the last two weeks - the United Nation's Climate Change Conference - we can make better sense of what is happening locally.
Envoys from across the globe are in Copenhagen to talk about cutting carbon emissions. The ongoing debate over who foots the bill and who can afford, economically, to foot the bill, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, continues. Over the past week, tempers have flared, fingers have been pointed, and accusations made and denied, amid calls for unity and consensus. As things stand now, the world's political leaders have yet to offer realistic targets or solutions.
But, despite all the criticism about Copenhagen, it is still all we have at present. Even with some failures, once the envoys return home to lead their nations in their separate ways, Copenhagen will prove to be a step beyond the Kyoto Protocol for the awareness it has raised.
On the subject of climate change, we, as individuals, can choose to focus on whether the world really is heating up, or we can indulge in the political bickering. But, as individuals, we can also help to alleviate the problem by, for instance, driving less and using more-energy-efficient appliances.
As for our current struggle with constitutional reform, we can also choose to argue - over the political science, legality or feasibility of a referendum through by-elections, or we can obsess over the political agendas of our politicians, the Hong Kong government and Beijing.
Or, we can be part of the reform process by taking what we, as individuals, see as the best way forward - by exercising our power to vote before the end of the current legislative year. And, when that time comes, our participation in the democratic process will amount to much more than our individual take on whether it is a de facto referendum, a by-election, or neither.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA