Hong Kong leaders must stand up for city's best interests in political reform

Frank Ching says our leaders should have the courage to consider all views on political reform, and fight for what's best for the city

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 11:37am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 4:16am

With the five-month public consultation on political reform only in its second month, there is a serious danger that, instead of resolving problems over universal suffrage elections for the chief executive, it will lead Hong Kong into a political dead end from which it will be almost impossible to emerge.

While the government says it is willing to listen to all views, it also says that views should be consistent with the Basic Law and the interpretations and decisions of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung has called for proposals that would not undermine the power of the nominating committee.

By telling the public what kind of proposals to submit, the government is already deciding in advance the outcome of the consultation.

If it is really willing to listen to the public, the government should be prepared to hear proposals that may require amending the Basic Law. If there was a clear consensus for a specific amendment, the chief executive would have a duty to say so in his report to the Standing Committee and, indeed, to provide his personal assessment of such a proposal.

The government needs to be bold and creative in going about the consultation. Instead of soliciting views that it thinks the central government will find acceptable, it should do what is best for Hong Kong.

Almost 17 years after the handover, the government should know that there is a need to change the current system. Continuing with it is to lead Hong Kong into a dead end.

A significant portion of the thinking public, including virtually all members of political parties, believes Hong Kong should move towards a parliamentary system of government whereby the executive is supported by a majority of members of the legislature.

The current consultation provides an opportunity for Hong Kong to move in this direction.

Such views should not be considered contrary to the Basic Law. Instead, the chief executive should point out that Article 45 says: "The method for selecting the chief executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region."

The "actual situation" is this: both the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps increasingly see the need for a link between the chief executive and the largest political group in the legislature.

The law that says the chief executive cannot be a member of any political party no longer accords with the needs of Hong Kong and should be repealed.

Of course, Article 45 also talks of "gradual and orderly progress". That being the case, it may not be possible to achieve a parliamentary government in 2017.

However, the chief executive should not exclude this possibility but make it clear in his report how we could move towards this in 2017, in terms of the nominating committee's composition and operation.

Failing to do so would be to lock Hong Kong into a system that does not work now and will not work in the future.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. frank.ching@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1