Democrats must focus on what universal suffrage can do for Hong Kong

Michael Chugani says the right to oppose Beijing is not the priority in Hong Kong's universal suffrage fight, whatever the democrats think

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 4:01am

I am still trying to understand what Hong Kong's so-called pan-democrats want in their demand for universal suffrage. Are they demanding the right to overthrow China's Communist Party as part of what they call "genuine" democracy? Or are they not that belligerent but simply saying this right must be included for democracy to be genuine?

In the muddled public debate now raging over what kind of universal suffrage Hong Kong should have, starting in 2017 with the chief executive election, it's become clear there are two conflicting bottom lines. Mainland leaders say under no circumstances will they allow anyone who confronts the central government to run as a chief executive candidate. Democracy camp leaders say there is no way they will accept such a condition.

This stalemate is stupid because mainland leaders are never going to say: "OK, in the name of democracy, we give you the right to overthrow us."

If pressed hard enough, some democracy camp leaders - not all - will say they have no intention of trying to overthrow the Communist Party. Perhaps it has finally dawned on them that, even if they win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers who fear communism, not many will publicly fight for the right of their chief executive to confront the central government. Hongkongers are, if anything, practical. Why trade the right to make money, speculate on property, go to the races on weekends, and partake in the pleasures of Guangdong's many karaoke bars for the right to topple the central government?

Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convenor of the new Alliance for True Democracy, told me in a television interview that rejecting Beijing's demand that the chief executive should not confront the central government didn't mean the democrats want confrontation. He said the democrats just want the chief executive to have the right to tell mainland leaders that China should replace one-party rule with a democratic multiparty system.

Let's imagine the chief executive saying to President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People: "Communism is bad. One-party rule should end. China should have democracy." To which, the president will likely reply: "Mind your own business. It's one country, two systems. You don't want us to interfere in your system. Don't interfere in ours."

Mainland leaders routinely tell US presidents not to interfere with China's internal politics. And a subordinate from Hong Kong wants to tell the big boss that he lacks political legitimacy? The debate over universal suffrage has gone astray. We need to refocus. Having the right to change China's system is not what matters most. It is making our system more representative.

Why have the democrats locked themselves into equating genuine democracy with the right to confront the central government? Isn't our goal simply to win the right to democratically elect a chief executive of the people's choice who will serve Hong Kong's best interests? Instead of trying to stare each other down with bottom lines, why not find a way out that will neither involve confronting Beijing nor downsizing our democracy?

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host.