'Our differences have narrowed'
The government has conceded that differences between it and moderate pan-democrats over the pace of democratisation have narrowed.
'The distance between us has become smaller,' Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said yesterday as a three-month consultation on electoral reform in 2012 ended.
'It will widen the basis of our discussion,' Lam said after meeting members of the Democratic Party and the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, who he said no longer insisted on universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive and the legislature in 2012.
Speaking at a briefing to mark the end of the consultation, Lam said discussions with pan-democrats would help achieve a consensus when a final reform proposal was put to a vote before the summer recess. But he said room for concessions remained small, as Beijing had not authorised the government to deal with electoral arrangements beyond 2012.
The Democratic Party, which submitted its reform proposal to Lam yesterday, has chosen to negotiate with the government and, it hopes, Beijing. Its stance is similar to those of other pan-democrats - that is, a model to elect the chief executive and lawmakers in 2012 can be discussed as long as Beijing promises that genuine universal suffrage is used in 2017 to elect the chief executive and all members of the Legislative Council in 2020.
But the party stood back from moves by the Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats to trigger a 'referendum' on political reform by orchestrating the resignations of five legislators.
Lam also quoted the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood as saying the government plan to create five new functional constituency seats for district councillors was 'a process which carries significant democratic elements'.
The association did not insist on immediate abolition of functional constituencies, Lam said, saying the two parties' position would help achieve consensus and enable democracy to develop.
Last night Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said the meeting between his party and Lam was successful in the sense that Lam had promised to convey their views to Beijing 'and he has not made any instant denial' of their demands. 'But there is still a long way to go before the government wins our support for its 2012 proposal and frankly, while I am not pessimistic that Beijing will make concessions, I am not optimistic,' Ho said.
Lam said the government would summarise the views received in more than 40,000 written submissions, views collected at 60 seminars and forums and 1.6 million signatures collected by a pro-government alliance, before coming up with a final proposal.
Meanwhile Lam stepped up the attack on the 'referendum' exercise. He said the insistence by the two parties involved that the exercise would be a success even if the lawmakers who resigned to force by-elections were returned uncontested was misleading. 'I have never heard of any jurisdiction around the world which would regard a zero-vote so-called referendum to be successful,' Lam said.