Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Hong Kong needs to start talking now about universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 2:21am

With another four years to go before the city is due to choose its leader by one person, one vote, the government seems to think it is in no hurry to flesh out the 2017 electoral arrangements for public discussion. The question of how to move towards a democratically elected legislature by 2020 appears to be even more remote. However, the recent debate over the need for a screening mechanism for chief executive candidates has fuelled emotions and unnecessary speculation. Some pan-democrats, fearing the ballot will be unfair as a result, have threatened to paralyse the central business district with a premature mass campaign similar to Occupy Wall Street in the United States. It is difficult to see how the prevailing sentiments can give rise to a rational debate on how universal suffrage should be implemented. To avoid further speculation, an early public consultation is advisable.

If the experiences of the electoral reforms in 2007 and 2012 are any reference, reaching a consensus on the way forward is not easy. Universal suffrage for the chief executive and the legislature is certainly an even bigger challenge. The public is justifiably worried that the same "take-it-or-leave it" tactics would be used, allowing them no choice but to swallow a last-minute deal brokered by the government and political parties holding the key votes. If the government is sincere about listening to the people, an early start would be a sensible step.

The Basic Law says the ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures. How it will be achieved is naturally a matter of public concern. But the government says only that it will consult at the right time, and is expected to focus on livelihood issues first. The absence of an official proposal allows critics and allies to fill in the gaps. The speculation is regrettable. Guessing what may or may not be implemented is not helpful to an informed debate. Without any details at this stage, it is also premature to assume it would be "fake" universal suffrage and worthy of radical action.

Universal suffrage has far-reaching implications to the city's governance. We could ill-afford putting in place a model unacceptable to Beijing and the Hong Kong people. Like it or not, the pressure for an early consultation has already built up. Further delay is not in our interest.