Let's keep calm about suffrage debate

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 May, 2013, 4:42am

It's not every day that a community has an opportunity to remake a constitutional order. Hong Kong people now have a once-in-a-lifetime chance of doing so, with minimal risk of violence or chaos. We don't know how lucky we are. Most people have had to face war and revolution in similar situations. So instead of distrust, hysteria and acrimony, perhaps we should approach our constitutional task with some intellectual excitement and curiosity.

At the moment, each time one side lays down some half-baked idea on the method of electing the chief executive by universal suffrage, the other side cries foul and accuses it of bad faith. When democracy icon Martin Lee Chu-ming recently presented his own ideas, he was practically lynched by his own people. This week, it's the pan-democrats' turn to be denounced. Under the proposal by the Alliance for True Democracy, anyone with the support of one-eighth of the future nominating committee may run for chief executive, but the committee members will be chosen by all 3.2 million voters. Sure, it's a tad unrealistic to involve 3.2 million voters to pick the committee's members, but it's a start and a basis for discussion.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, deputy director of the Basic Law Committee, and the pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao, wasted no time in trashing it. It's a replay of Qiao Xiaoyang's remarks about patriotic qualifications being used to screen chief executive candidates; only back then, it was pan-democrats who went into paroxysm.

Let's keep in mind that it's all just talk at this stage. Beijing or the Hong Kong government cannot unilaterally impose its voting agenda on Hong Kong any more than the pan-democratic camp can. We have a crucial safety switch. It is that under the Basic Law, you need a two-thirds majority of lawmakers to pass any political reform package. The pan-democrats have 27 votes in Legco, which is more than enough to veto any universal voting plan they object to.

So what are the rest of us - the real people of Hong Kong - to do? I say, study each proposal on its merits as it comes along and let the marketplace of ideas debate and decide. As the Brits say, keep calm and carry on.