Courage, wisdom and the art of common sense

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 June, 2010, 12:00am

Less than 24 hours after the unprecedented debate between Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Audrey Eu Yuet-mee on constitutional reform, the public had already shifted its focus to the compromise political reform proposal put forward by the Democratic Party and the Alliance for Universal Suffrage.

Hong Kong has been fighting for more democratisation for over two decades. The first step was taken in 1988 when Hongkongers demanded direct elections. The number of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council has gradually increased over the years.

By 2004, half the Legco seats were returned by direct elections in geographical constituencies. The following year, the government proposed to add five geographical and five functional seats, with the latter being selected by district councillors. It was rejected because pan-democrats opposed the idea of non-directly-elected functional seats.

Back then, I proposed abolishing the appointment of district councillors and implementing 'one man, two votes', but my advice fell on deaf ears.

In 2007, the National People's Congress reiterated that Hong Kong's democratic reforms should be in accordance with the Basic Law's principle of gradual and orderly progress. It ruled out dual universal suffrage for Legco and the chief executive elections in 2012, but said the chief executive could be directly elected in 2017, and Legco thereafter. This week, the government unexpectedly accepted the Democratic Party's reform package, saying it was within the legal framework of the Basic Law and the 2007 decision of the NPC on the pace of democratisation.

Under the proposal, candidates for the five new Legco functional seats would be nominated by elected district councillors and then voted on by the 3.2 million voters who currently do not have a say in functional constituencies.

The proposal may not be perfect and it does not equate to genuine direct election, but it is still the best option and a good tactic in a stalemate.

Democratic politics is the art of compromise, and of what is achievable. Sometimes, taking one step back in order to take two steps forward later is the most politically beneficial strategy.

Compromise doesn't mean cowardice. In fact, it takes political courage, wisdom and common sense. What the Democrats have done deserves the support of all of us who believe in democracy.

Their proposal will not only increase the democratic elements in Legco, from 50 per cent to 60 per cent but, more importantly, it will also make the five new functional seats more accountable by allowing voters to select them. If this is not democratic advancement, what is it?

The most unsavoury part of this political tug of war is having to deal with those who play opportunistic politics.

Lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Yiu-chung and Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who are also members of the Alliance for Universal Suffrage and had earlier supported a compromise proposal, suddenly made a U-turn, saying they would vote against the modified package. The League of Social Democrats has also said it will boycott the 'small circle' election.

To those who vehemently oppose the Democratic Party's package, my question is this: would they continue to uphold their principle by not taking part in the election of the five new functional seats in 2012?

I would guess not, because they want to have their cake and eat it. By contrast, the Democrats have taken a brave and decisive first step into new, uncharted political territory to pave the way for the city's further democratisation.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.