Hong Kong failed when the first chance for political reform under Chinese rule arose eight years ago. Despite strong public desire for change, the government and lawmakers could not agree on the way forward when handling the reform in 2005. It was not until 2010 that a reform package was passed for the first time. Bigger challenges are now before us. First, how to elect the city's chief via one-person, one-vote in 2017; then reforming the Legislative Council in 2016 before universal suffrage is due in 2020.
The issues were highlighted during a South China Morning Post forum, entitled "Passage to 2017 - The Next Milestone of One Country, Two Systems". The debate was timely in that the government will soon kick off the process with a public consultation. The message from speakers from across the political spectrum was loud and clear - the city cannot afford to miss the coming opportunity. Standing still is not an option.
This is, however, easier said than done. If the failure of the 2007 reform is any reference, crafting an electoral package acceptable to the key stakeholders will not be easy. The 2012 reform was only implemented after painful negotiations three years ago. The lack of consensus at the forum on how to move towards the goal spoke volumes about the challenge ahead. The lack of confidence and direction in the community is worrying.
The prevailing pessimistic sentiment is partly attributed to the deep political divide of the rival camps over the years. They are not just poles apart ideologically. As revealed by Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing earlier, the sense of mistrust between the pan-democrats and pro-establishment camp is so strong that some lawmakers act like strangers even when they see each other inside the council complex. The long-standing antagonism does not help foster trust and co-operation. As suggested by one of the speakers, the language of political conciliation is needed.
The right electoral model is essential. For progress to be made, an environment conducive to dialogue and co-operation is essential. Instead of being solely guided by their political ideals and convictions, the rival camps should put Hong Kong's interest first. That means putting aside differences and seeking common ground on the way ahead.
Hong Kong cannot afford to march on the spot on the road towards democracy. We need to work harder to come up with a road map and turn it into reality. Compromise is essential.