Universal Suffrage

Don't waste this chance for real dialogue on political reform in Shanghai

Dennis Kwok says democratic lawmakers heading to Shanghai must ensure that, unlike in 2005, they don't waste the opportunity to begin genuine dialogue on political reform with mainland officials

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 4:33am

In 2005, the chief executive and members of the Legislative Council went on a two-day tour of the Pearl River Delta, marking the very first time all legislators in Hong Kong were invited to visit the mainland.

It was also at a time when Hong Kong was engaged in discussions on constitutional reform and the possibility of introducing universal suffrage in the 2007 chief executive and 2008 Legco elections.

Almost a decade on, we find ourselves again in the midst of a consultation for constitutional reform and universal suffrage, so it comes as no surprise that such an invitation would come from the central government.

What are the lessons we must learn from the 2005 visit?

Any opportunity to communicate directly with mainland officials should be seized at once by the democrats. However, back in 2005, the pan-democrats simply accepted the invitation in the hope that the trip would establish a good foundation of mutual trust, on top of which further communications or even a consensus could be built. It did not happen. It was wasted time, and a wasted opportunity for both sides.

The failure to achieve anything close to that in the end, however, is a lesson not to be forgotten. Simply visiting the mainland, with no follow-up and no time for serious dialogue and discussion on matters close to the hearts of the Hong Kong people, is a wasted opportunity and does nobody any good.

During this upcoming Shanghai visit, we must avoid wasting any time on sightseeing or mere political gestures. Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time we've got to begin a constructive dialogue by getting to the core of the issue as soon as possible. We must ensure the attendance of the relevant officials and secure sufficient time for open and frank discussions.

An official mechanism should be developed for future dialogue to continue, so as to ensure that any communication channel developed through this visit is not a one-off but a continuing one. It is only through this mechanism that a continuing and open dialogue with mainland officials on the important issue of constitutional reform could be achieved.

Otherwise, the two sides would no doubt swiftly retreat into their respective entrenchments, and the stalemate that we have seen in the past decade would continue.

In light of the significance of the upcoming Shanghai delegation and the important emphasis on the Basic Law, all 30 members of the Election Committee legal subsector, including myself, have co-written a letter to be presented to Wang Guangya , Li Fei and other relevant central government officials, expressing the united stance of the Hong Kong legal profession.

The letter purposely steers clear from any specific proposals but instead sets out five principles derived from the Basic Law, with which we believe any electoral proposal for the 2017 chief executive election must conform.

Article 45 of the Basic Law stipulates that the method for selecting the chief executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in Hong Kong and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress, and that the ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.

Under this constitutional structure, we believe the method for selecting the chief executive in 2017 should accord with the following cardinal principles:

  • The election should be by universal suffrage, comprising a genuine democratic election capable of reflecting the will of the Hong Kong people;
  • The nominating committee should be broadly representative. That is to say, it must be capable of reflecting the will of the Hong Kong people;
  • The method of nomination should accord with democratic procedures. Its sole purpose must be to facilitate a genuine democratic election, giving the Hong Kong people a real choice, and be capable of reflecting the actual situation in Hong Kong and the will of the people;
  • There should be no unreasonable restrictions on any individual's right to stand for election, as enshrined in Article 26 of the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (as entrenched in Article 39 of the Basic Law); and
  • In line with the principle of gradual and orderly progress, the nomination threshold should not, in any event, be higher and/or more difficult to attain than the threshold used in the 2012 chief executive election.

We expect any proposal for the 2017 election to be in strict accordance with these principles. Only such proposals could fulfil the relevant legal requirements in the Basic Law and the democratic aspirations of the Hong Kong people.

Dennis Kwok is a member of the Legislative Council for the legal functional constituency and a member of the Civic Party