Moderates must come together to compromise on political reform

Law Chi-kwong says that as society becomes increasingly polarised and governance grinds to a halt, Hong Kong badly needs moderates to come together and compromise on political reform

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 4:58pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 August, 2014, 2:06am

The key debate on constitutional reform today is still on the mechanism and procedure for electing the chief executive by universal suffrage. Practically, the reform package that the Hong Kong government can propose must be acceptable to the central government, and if Beijing finds it acceptable, then the pro-establishment camp would most likely follow suit.

At the other side of the divide, pan-democratic factions in the Legislative Council have clearly indicated that their votes will depend on whether the package provides for genuine universal suffrage and whether it is widely acceptable to the general public.

In other words, for a constitutional reform proposal to be deemed suitable, it would have to be acceptable to the central government, the pro-establishment camp in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong government, the pan-democrats and the general public. Something that is ideal for one party but grossly unacceptable to another would not pass muster.

At one extreme of the spectrum of views, civil nomination must replace a nominating committee as the means of candidate selection, or if the nominating committee is to be kept, it must serve only as a rubber stamp for civil nomination.

At the other end, the demand is that Beijing faces zero risk of having to consider appointing an unacceptable chief executive elect. This demand manifests itself in the call for a high threshold for someone to become a candidate; that is, 50 per cent support from members of the nominating committee.

It is now very apparent that neither extreme can prevail (procedurally, that means winning at least two-thirds of legislators' votes). Civil nomination is not acceptable to the pro-establishment camp and Beijing, while a high threshold to ensure zero risk - that is, political screening via the nominating committee - will not be acceptable to the democrats.

Insisting on either stand will ensure that our constitutional reform comes to a standstill.

Opinion polls and recent events clearly indicate that Hong Kong society is becoming more polarised. This is pushing governance to the verge of paralysis, if we aren't already there. For those of us who are dissatisfied with the status quo, complaining about the administration's lack of positive action and decisions is an easy way out.

We should never lose sight of the crux of the problem - our government's lack of legitimacy. Genuine universal suffrage is an obvious way to increase the legitimacy of our government, even though it may not solve all the problems that are inherent in our present system. Therefore, we know beyond reasonable doubt that no movement in our constitutional reform will only make things worse.

Yet a standstill will be inevitable unless Beijing and Hong Kong's pan-democratic factions share this common understanding and have the same objective of making the city a better place to live.

A standstill cannot be an option for anyone who cares about Hong Kong. The question that everyone should now ponder is what can be done to avoid this possibility.

Unfortunately, judging from poll results and action taken by antagonistic parties in Hong Kong, it's clear that a significant portion of people do not mind that the city is being driven into a cul-de-sac.

It is with a sense of urgency and passion for Hong Kong that a group of 39 individuals from different factions of society - pro-establishment, pan-democrats and those in-between - signed a petition on August 7 to call on all parties concerned with our political development to work together and create a social environment conducive to sensible dialogue.

In a diverse and free society like Hong Kong, because of ideological differences it is inevitable that parts of society will be divided into factions standing on the far extremes. But to enact political reform, some consensus is necessary. In an ironic twist, those on the centre-left are sometimes more prone to attacks by those on the extreme left than those in the opposite camp. The same goes for moderates on the right. Any hope for a consensus now lies in compromise among those in the middle.

Compromise requires courage, or perhaps folly, to resist attack from one's own wing and to stand in the line of fire. It may be true that it is the ideological extremes that push for change in society but it is mostly those in the middle that make it happen.

This is now a critical moment for the political development of Hong Kong, with serious implications for its future economic and social development. The call to allow Hong Kong a chance for compromises that are consistent with the Basic Law and that would deliver genuine universal suffrage is loud and clear.

Dr Law Chi-kwong is a founding member of the Democratic Party and one of 39 moderates to sign a petition calling for consensus on political reform