My Take

Absolutist pan-democrats risk another NPC interpretation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 2:00am

The idea of opening the chief executive nomination to every voter sounds great on paper. Another is to let everyone have a say in designing Hong Kong's future democratic system.

The first idea is advocated by Scholarism led by teenagers; the second by legal scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting. If these are the ends they seek, occupying Central - or at least the threat of doing it - is the means. Many people support them without realising such efforts are counterproductive. These activists believe, mistakenly, that they can exert enough pressure on Beijing to agree to an idealised democracy that they claim would meet international standards such as those set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In reality, they are no more than irritants to the central government. Beijing is the only one who holds the Sword of Damocles. Specifically, it is the ever-present possibility of an interpretation of the Basic Law relevant to universal suffrage by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

In 2004, fresh from our victory at shelving the Article 23 internal security law, many people were - like now - agitating for full democracy for the 2007 chief executive and 2008 Legislative Council polls. In response, Beijing produced an interpretation against it. While I am hopeful that today there are moderates on both sides who can cut a deal, the probability is high that the coming public consultation and ensuring debate will become so acrimonious that the Leung Chun-ying administration will request a Standing Committee interpretation to end it.

You may think this would backfire and start a revolution. Not necessarily. Suppose the interpretation is "liberal" enough that it amounts to an advance over last year's chief executive election.

In their demand for all or nothing, most of the 27 pan-democrats will reject such a reform package in Legco, but there may still be some swingable votes from a few pan-dems - enough to secure a two-thirds-majority passage - who will think getting something is better than nothing. To avoid an NPC intervention, we need to start fighting for the realistic and possible, not the perfect and ideal. In other words, start behaving like adults rather than following idealistic children.