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Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Time to listen to voices of reason in chief executive election

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 3:03am

The first popular vote for chief executive is more than four years away, but emotions over the process are already running high. Sides supporting democracy and Beijing are at loggerheads, their noise drowning out rational discussion. That they have drawn battle lines so early makes little sense given that viable proposals as to how elections are to take place and under what conditions have yet to be laid out. If universal suffrage is to succeed, there has to be well thought-out plans, reasoned discourse among all involved and orderly debate.

Voices of reason are necessary. Such people may not see eye-to-eye politically, but they can guide the discussion. That is what democracy advocate and former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, Beijing loyalist and one-time justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie and Democratic Party founder Martin Lee Chu-ming have attempted in recent days. They have presented views and arguments that, although personal, lay a foundation for a more constructive discussion.

The focus has been sorely needed. Comments last month by National People's Congress Law Committee chairman Qiao Xiaoyang that the chief executive had to love both the nation and Hong Kong and must not be confrontational towards the central government have irked democracy supporters. Pan-democrat groups have joined forces under the banner of the newly formed Alliance for True Democracy to push for universal suffrage, while a movement to disrupt life in Central - should all not go as planned - has been launched. A pro-Beijing campaign is under way.

Discussion has been kick-started, but to date it has been more about scoring political points than formulating ways and means of choosing who will head Hong Kong's next government. Chan has rightly pointed out a reality that some pro-democrats have been apt to forget: Beijing has every reason to expect that the chief executive does not challenge its one-party rule. Leung separately made another salient point, suggesting that universal suffrage was unlikely to be perfect when introduced and would be modified by society as it saw fit.

Wise words have been spoken; they have to be heeded. Work has to begin in earnest on plans for electing the chief executive. Authorities have to promptly launch a public consultation. Disturbances and loud politicking are not what is needed. Instead, all with a vested interest have to work together for the best outcome for Hong Kong.