Time for Beijing to trust Hongkongers in their quest for democracy

Emily Lau calls on the SAR government to truly reflect Hongkongers' views in its report on electoral reform, and for Beijing to have faith in and listen to the people in their quest for genuine democracy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 4:51am

Last week, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said that there is no problem with the relationship between the executive authorities and the legislature, and filibustering in the Legislative Council is caused by only a handful of radicals. His view was immediately refuted by Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, who said Leung had oversimplified the problem.

Legco House Committee chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen also disagreed with the chief executive. He said that the relationship between the two branches of government had never been so abysmal, adding that it takes more than one cold day for the river to freeze three feet deep.

The chief executive's remarks showed a total lack of appreciation of the sharp contradictions in the community. Either he does not know, or does not want to know, that divergent views in society are threatening to rip the city apart. How can such an inept person be fit to run Hong Kong?

Some political commentators have said the Leung administration would be gravely mistaken if it thinks it can govern Hong Kong effectively as long as it gets the support of pro-establishment legislators, which form a majority in Legco.

To ensure its proposals can get smooth passage in Legco, the administration must have a constructive working relationship with all legislators, including those from the pro-democracy camp. The lack of it, together with many officials' refusal to listen to opposing views in the community, have created a hostile and confrontational environment in Legco, something I have not seen before since I got elected in 1991.

Pro-democracy legislators' anger and dismay with Leung led to the walkout on July 3 during the chief executive question time. Such a protest by 23 pro-democracy legislators was unprecedented in Legco's history. We wanted to show our disgust with the Leung administration's contempt for public opinion, particularly his refusal to respond to the overwhelming demand for universal suffrage expressed by the almost 800,000 people who voted in the civil referendum organised by Occupy Central, and by the half a million people who took to the streets on July 1.

Today, things may come to a head when Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor comes to Legco to present the government's report on its five-month public consultation on constitutional reform. I have warned the administration not to ignore the views expressed by Hong Kong people. Neither should they try to rule out popular proposals for electing the chief executive in 2017 by universal suffrage, such as the nomination of candidates by the general public and nomination by political parties. I expressed my views to the undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Lau Kong-wah, when I met him on July 7, telling him that any attempt by the SAR government to rule out proposals for genuine universal suffrage would trigger massive protests.

Meanwhile, 13 academics, including a member of the National People's Congress, have proposed that the chief executive should delay submitting the report to Beijing, so as to give the community more time for discussion. I support this idea; it would be desirable to give Hong Kong people and Beijing some time to cool down and try to reach a consensus, rather than go full speed ahead, resulting in serious confrontation.

As it stands, the decision by the NPC Standing Committee, which is expected to meet in the last week of August to scrutinise Leung's report, will be another flashpoint for confrontation. Given Beijing officials' hostile and intransigent remarks on universal suffrage, insisting that candidates for the chief executive election in 2017 must love China and love Hong Kong, and cannot seek to confront the central government, many people expect the Standing Committee to rule out civil nomination and nomination by political parties at its August meeting. That could trigger rounds of protests and even acts of civil disobedience.

The Democratic Party will continue to press the central government to respect the wishes of the Hong Kong people and honour its undertaking that the people can elect the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017. But the hardline attitude and heavy-handed approach adopted by the State Council's white paper on "one country, two systems", published last month, has had a devastating effect both in Hong Kong and the international community. Many regard it as a signal that Beijing will renege on its policy of giving Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. It has caused alarm, dismay and consternation, and many people have called on Beijing to withdraw it.

Given such an explosive environment, it would not be surprising if Beijing doesn't allow Hong Kong to have a chief executive election in 2017 that would comply with international standards. By that, we mean the election should not contain unreasonable restrictions and would allow the voters a genuine choice. If Beijing rules out any form of election that complies with international standards, the Democratic Party will work with the Occupy Central trio and other organisations to kick-start the act of civil disobedience to occupy the streets of Central.

For members of my party and many Hong Kong people, there's more at stake than universal suffrage.

Many people fear that the freedoms we have grown used to - freedom to protest, freedom of speech and equality before the law - are being eroded. Without these freedoms, Hong Kong's role as a vibrant international city, an offshore financial centre and a hub for trade and investment would be jeopardised.

If such a tragedy is to be prevented, the SAR and Beijing officials must bring themselves down a peg or two, discard their struggle mindset, listen to and trust the Hong Kong people. They should have a dialogue with the pro-democracy camp and the Occupy Central organisers and seek to establish a constructive working relationship with them.

Hong Kong's reputation for peaceful and orderly demonstrations is the pride of the city. Thus, if we are pushed to acts of civil disobedience by Beijing refusing to keep its promise on universal suffrage, we will try to ensure the protests are peaceful and non-violent.

The next few weeks will be critical. The Hong Kong people and the international community will be watching with bated breath to see how Beijing handles the reasonable and concerted demands for democracy by people here.

Emily Lau Wai-hing is chairwoman of the Democratic Party and a legislator