The ball is in Beijing's court

Emily Lau pledges that the Democratic Party will sharpen the focus on its goals, and says it will work with central leaders for universal suffrage - provided they reach out in good faith

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 4:40pm

Last Monday, the two newly elected vice-chairmen of the Democratic Party and I were invited to appear on Allen Lee's talk show on Now TV. Lee noted that, besides me, three political parties had chairwomen - Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee of the Liberal Party, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee of the Civic Party and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the New People's Party.

There is further good news. On Wednesday, Park Geun-hye was elected the first woman president of South Korea.

As Mao Zedong once said, women hold up half the sky. I certainly hope that many more women in Asia and elsewhere will be elected to high political office. When The Frontier merged with the Democratic Party in late 2008, one of my objectives was to consolidate the pro-democracy movement and to encourage more women and young people to go into politics.

Today, four years later, this remains my unswerving goal. I was elected the first chairwoman of the Democratic Party a week ago, defeating fellow legislator Sin Chung-kai by a small margin, after I was encouraged to enter the race at the last minute by party members.

Members want the new leadership to implement reforms. Some have expressed the desire that its leaders should project a strong image of the party. Thus, the reforms we undertake will aim to give the public a clearer and sharper image of the Democratic Party, what we stand for and how determined and capable we are to achieve these goals. In so doing, we hope to gain people's confidence and support.

But reforms do not mean jettisoning many things the party stands for. There is still a lot of respect and support for former chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, who stepped down in September to take responsibility for the party's unsatisfactory results in the Legislative Council elections, in which the number of Democratic Party legislators was reduced from eight to six.

What the party's new leadership will try to do is to work closely with members of its central committee, Legco members, district councillors and district officers. We will give ample opportunities to members, particularly the younger ones, to assume positions of responsibility and to showcase their talents.

The party will also reach out to the community to find sources of funding to support our operations and activities, and to train and nurture talent. I notice the chairman of the pro-Beijing party Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Tam Yiu-chung, recently said his party last year spent more than HK$80 million. One commentator observed that in a DAB fund-raising event, donations gushed in like sea water.

I hope Hong Kong people, including those in the business community, recognise that in this city, like elsewhere, there should be a system of checks and balances in politics, thereby ensuring there is no one-party dictatorship. I hope people who share this goal will support the Democratic Party.

In the last two years, many Hong Kong people have become increasingly concerned about the central government's statements and actions, which give a strong impression that Beijing may be losing patience with "one country, two systems" and wants to take away our freedoms and undermine the rule of law.

The Democratic Party's role is to speak out for the Hong Kong people and to defend our core values of freedom, equality, democracy, the rule of law and social justice. Faced with this storm of unprecedented ferocity, the party will not let the people down.

In the past, we have been criticised for being too detached. We are determined to change that. We will reach out to build bridges and enhance communication and collaboration. We will use social media to engage the community, particularly the younger generation.

One key objective of many Hong Kong people is universal suffrage and direct election of the chief executive in 2017. The Democratic Party will work with our pro-democracy allies and other groups in the community to achieve that goal. We are willing to negotiate with anyone, including the central government, but there must be trust and mutual respect.

Sadly, none of that exists at the present moment. In fact, the political atmosphere is exceedingly toxic and acrimonious, and many Hong Kong people simply do not believe Beijing will allow us to have democratic elections. Under such circumstances, there is little room to manoeuvre.

As I see it, the ball is in Beijing's court. It is up to the central government to show the Hong Kong people and the international community that the promise of "one country, two systems" is intact, that democratic elections can and will be held in 2017 to elect the chief executive and direct elections for all Legco members by 2020 at the latest.

Beijing can start by publishing its proposed electoral rules for the chief executive and Legco elections, showing that the people's right to stand for election, to nominate candidates and to vote are universal and equal. This will fulfil the requirements of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and is something that the UN Human Rights Committee has been demanding for many years.

Emily Lau Wai-hing is chairwoman of the Democratic Party