To achieve full democracy is the aspiration of most Hongkongers, including the pro-establishment and pro-Beijing political parties, as a way to safeguard our rule of law and freedom. The de facto referendum, triggered by the resignation of five pro-democracy lawmakers, has caused a stir, prompting government allies to boycott it. Some mainland officials have criticised the referendum plan as unconstitutional and illegal, and suggested that the Hong Kong government should impose legal sanctions.
The de facto referendum is only a set of by-elections promoted as a political movement by the pan-democrats, who have used bold and radical slogans to rally public support. In reality, it has no legal basis and, therefore, it should not be regarded as a referendum at all.
Under Legislative Council election rules, whenever a member resigns, the government must hold a by-election to fill the vacancy. So, a by-election is not unconstitutional, nor is it illegal.
The reaction from the central government is more a political necessity. Mainland officials are trying to use the principles of public law to support the Basic Law argument: in other words, the referendum is illegal because it is not authorised by the law. But, as there is no reference to 'referendum' in the Basic Law, there is no need to punish anyone for taking part in it.
The whole argument has only provided some pro-Beijing forces with a good excuse to push the government to ban the by-elections and block funding for them. They even suggested that the government amend Legco rules on elections. Such gross disregard for the law is against our fundamental principles and core values. If anything, such underhand behaviour will only reinforce public desire for universal suffrage.
Because of the political reality dictated by the Basic Law, any proposal, either to abolish or preserve all functional constituency seats, will not get a big enough majority in Legco. So, to move forward, both sides must compromise.
Based on experience, the pan-democrats can count on some 60 per cent of votes in Legco geographical elections - which means around 20 seats. If they focus their campaign on abolishing functional seats in the next election and can still win at least 20 seats, then that would be the ultimate stamp of public approval. Once they have started the campaign to kill the functional system, their opponents will have to follow suit.
Of the 28 functional constituencies, eight are based on the 'one man, one vote' system. The traditional strongholds for the pan-democrats are the education, legal, health services and social welfare sectors. If they put their hearts into it, it's still possible to win support from other sectors.
At the same time, they should also call for 'one man, one vote' in other sectors such as the insurance, labour and tourism constituencies, to broaden their supporter base. There are numerous ways to expand their influence in the functional sectors, but the one I have proposed should be quite achievable: we could let them put forward their own candidates and then voters could choose.
This would be the best way forward because it would balance the demands from both sides; safeguarding industry interests while allowing the public more participation and control.
To achieve universal suffrage for the elections of the chief executive and Legco, the ultimate goal is to abolish all functional seats. But, we must not forget the reality that we are bound by political constraints, and need to overcome these hurdles gradually. At the same time, we must learn to compromise.
The pan-democrats can expand their political influence from the district level to functional constituencies with a more strategic approach, targeting strengths and weaknesses. Once they have got sufficient support, they can then force their opponents to toe their line. To succeed, they must learn how to win friends and influence people. If they can master that, and learn how to make concessions, anything is achievable.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator