• Wed
  • Dec 24, 2014
  • Updated: 4:43am
PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 1:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 3:25am

To achieve political reform, Hong Kong must converse in a civilised manner

Peter Kammerer says the reasoned debate in Britain on Scottish independence shows up the immaturity of our bad-tempered push for reform


Peter Kammerer is a long-time columnist and commentator for the SCMP. He has received recognition for his writing at the Hong Kong news Awards, the annual Human Rights Press Awards and from the Society of Publishing in Asia. Before moving to Hong Kong in 1988, he worked on newspapers in his native Australia.  

Universal suffrage for Hong Kong is about people being able to vote for those who govern them. Simple enough: it's been tried and tested in countless elections. Yet the nature of our discussion is bad tempered, sometimes irrational and definitely not in the spirit of reaching a consensus.

Debate in Britain about the looming referendum on independence for Scotland is a matter of greater gravitas, yet the tones are measured, reasoned and mature. Genuine democracy is clearly not something our city is going to get any time soon.

The reason is simple enough - we get universal suffrage in whatever form the central government decides and in a time frame it determines. That is plainly laid out in the Basic Law. What exactly that is - the terms of reference as laid out in Article 45 of the constitution are undefined - is whatever officials in the capital determine it to be. Beijing stamped its authority on the process in 2007, when 2017 was set for the vote for chief executive and 2020 for the Legislative Council.

Central government and liaison office officials have from time to time reiterated their position and, as the Occupy Central movement for "genuine" universal suffrage gathered steam, increasingly more vocally. Warnings, intimidation and veiled threats against those who support shutting down Central district to push for democracy are now commonplace, even though the plan has yet to, and may never, happen. Mock referendums, counter petitions and Sunday's anti-Occupy street protest have raised volumes to the point that both sides are shouting at each other. Coupled with a penchant among the radical elements of the democracy movement to hurl objects and insults at opponents, it has all become exceedingly undignified.

This seems far removed from the push for Scottish independence. Pan-democrats aren't seeking an independent Hong Kong; they want free and fair elections. But Beijing and the democracy movement should nonetheless pay attention to the manner in which Britain's government and the Scottish National Party and others pushing for a separate state have handled the issue. The discussion and debate are nothing short of civilised.

Britain has much to lose financially; its North Sea oil and gas fields are in Scottish waters. Yet in October 2012 it agreed that the devolved Scottish government could conduct a referendum, which will be held on September 18. There have been some acrimonious words, but, mostly, the process has gone smoothly, with a white paper and calm and reasoned discussion by both sides. There seems little likelihood that the outcome will produce a bad loser. If the vote goes against Britain, it will lament the loss of a child and get on with life. Should those wanting independence lose, there will be regrouping and another attempt.

Beijing and the pan-democrats have much to learn from such gentlemanly behaviour. A promise has been made to Hong Kong and it has to be fulfilled. Those seeking universal suffrage have to be mindful of the constraints and work within them. It's called attaining a consensus and it involves dealing with one another in an open and civilised manner.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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I wonder how many HKers believe that the quest for universal suffrage is inversely proportional to the HK government's quality of leadership.
In western countries, elections are used mainly to get rid of politicians, or indeed parties,
who have not fulfilled public expectations.
Perhaps if Beijing demands a higher standard of governance from officials in HK,
the cries for universal suffrage will diminish.
Might I suggest that if Beijing had done the equivalent of what London is doing for Scotland -- allowing the city to hold a referendum on the electoral process for 2017, and promising to respect the outcome -- our political conversations would be far more civil.
Yes, you cannot compare the two situations. One side here has all the power and it is not the democrats. Both sides need to compromise, not only the weaker one.
Pan-democrats may be able to talk to Beijing at meetings, but the latter don't listen.


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