Democrats should put its political reform road map on the table

Mike Rowse has a suggestion for the party's new chairwoman

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 June, 2013, 11:48am

No one should envy Emily Lau Wai-hing for the burden she has taken on by becoming chairwoman of the Democratic Party. But amid the difficulties, there lurks an opportunity for her to strike a bold blow for the advancement of democracy in our city.

The question that remains is whether Lau will spot the opening and have the courage to talk once again to the relevant authorities and cut a deal. It does not matter if she makes the first move or accepts an approach by the other side. What is important is that they get together.

First, the burden: for some time now, the party has been publicly scorned by most other pan-democrats for having had the courage to do a deal with Beijing over the 2010 political reform package which secured the five new "super seats" in the Legislative Council. This criticism has been monstrously unfair because without the agreement there would have been little meaningful progress.

But some of the mud stuck, and the party suffered in the recent polls.

Perhaps for this reason, in an attempt to mend fences, the Democrats have been slow to condemn some of the recent foolish behaviour of their counterparts and have even lent their support. The filibuster by "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung to block introduction of the proposed old people's allowance is one glaring example.

And for an exercise in sheer futility, the repeated attempts to drive Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying from office by procedural means are hard to beat. Maybe the court case was borderline understandable as political grandstanding. But once that had been lost, what was the point of the motion of no confidence (defeated), the bid to set up a select committee with special powers (same result), the move to impeach (sure to meet the same fate), and the call for a march to demand his resignation? This last one was particularly pathetic.

So where should Emily lead the party from here?

First, she needs to focus. People - or political parties - who set out to be all things to all people soon end up being not much to nearly everyone. Second, Lau needs look no further than the name of her party for an answer. For the next four years, the absolute No 1 priority should be to secure a significant step forward in our democratic development.

To do this, it would be a big mistake to sit around, waiting for the government proposals to emerge. The Democrats should come up with a road map of how to get to a fully democratic Legco in 2020, starting with a clear and practical reform package for 2016 as an interim step. If they can sell it to the Civic and Labour parties, too, so much the better.

By coming out with their version first, the Democrats will have created a benchmark against which the administration's version will be measured.

Trying to scrap all the functional constituency seats in one go would fail the practicality test because some of those members would have to be persuaded to vote in favour of the change to secure the necessary two-thirds majority.

But a moderate reform package - one that scrapped only the most outrageous rotten boroughs, say, and set a reasonable minimum threshold for constituency size for the functional constituencies remaining - would pass the smell test of public opinion and would be difficult to resist.

Successful implementation would then set the scene and provide a basis for going all the way in the next round.

There will still be other challenges: how to secure a directly elected chief executive in 2017 while reassuring Beijing that Hong Kong is not preparing to jump off a political cliff; how to meet our constitutional obligation to enact Article 23 security legislation; but these can be addressed once we have got Legco reform right.

Cinderella got to meet Prince Charming only because she went to the ball in the first place. So, Emily, get those dancing shoes on. The band is playing and Messrs Leung and Zhang are waiting to mark your card.

Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at Chinese University.