Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Ease tensions now over universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 1:26am

There is growing unease as the battle lines over universal suffrage are being drawn. A further step towards a controversial civil-disobedience campaign was taken when hundreds of its supporters gathered to discuss their plans. This prompted a stern warning from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who said the move could in no way be peaceful or lawful. There was even a suggestion that participants should be prepared for bloodshed similar to that seen on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

It remains unclear whether the campaign's organisers believe this would be the worst-case scenario or whether they are just talking tough in the hope of attracting more hardliners. Leung may also think he has to toe a strong line to demonstrate leadership, despite concerns that it may backfire. Whatever their intention, the remarks have fuelled concerns that an ugly showdown is inevitable. It is disturbing that both sides are raising the stakes rather than seeking a compromise. The rhetoric does nothing to defuse the political tension.

The aspirations of a mass campaign to push for genuine universal suffrage in 2017 cannot be faulted, especially when the debate is clouded with talks of a possible mechanism to screen out candidates opposed by Beijing. But it has to ask whether civil disobedience is justified. With the government still reluctant to launch a public consultation on the electoral arrangements, the "Occupy Central with Love and Peace" campaign seeks to fill the gap by engaging the community to work out an acceptable package. But what is worrying is the ultimate plan to paralyse the business district with a 10,000-strong crowd. Although the participants are required not to resist police trying to remove them, it is difficult to see how violence can be avoided. Breaking the law and disrupting lives to achieve one's goal are hardly acceptable to the majority of people in Hong Kong. Such an approach does not conform to the city's tradition of staging protests in a peaceful way.

Hongkongers deserve genuine universal suffrage. But it can be achieved only through dialogue and compromise rather than confrontation. Regrettably, there is a growing danger of the stakeholders drifting further apart. The organisers have offered to call off the blockade should the final electoral proposals conform to international standards. Leung should have the courage to defuse the tension by releasing proposals for public consultation as early as possible.