Consensus is the key to achieving meaningful electoral reform for 2017

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 February, 2014, 2:56am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 February, 2014, 4:40am

Conventional wisdom says spring cannot be far when the Lunar New Year begins. The new season symbolises hope, harmony and opportunity. Unfortunately, the political landscape remains wintry as ever. The ongoing public consultation on political reform does not seem to have fostered any consensus. Informed discussions have been drowned out by noises and gestures. Beijing and the pan-democrats are poles apart on how universal suffrage is to be implemented. Some lawmakers plan to boycott a spring reception hosted by Beijing's Liaison Office. The antagonistic atmosphere does not bode well for a breakthrough in the coming year.

With another three months of the consultation still to go, the government has stepped up the propaganda war against the pan-democrats' proposal of allowing direct nomination of a chief executive contestant with a specified number of voters. In a recent article published in this newspaper, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung argues that the Basic Law makes it clear that the nominating committee is the only body with the power to put forward a candidate. Although he maintains that the view is not necessarily the government's final position, it is the clearest indication yet that the so-called public nomination is unlikely to be accepted by Beijing.

That the justice secretary has weighed into the debate at this stage is understandable. The government may think dwelling on proposals inconsistent with the Basic Law will lead nowhere. However, the pan-democrats remain unconvinced. They insist that their proposal does not restrict the nominating committee from putting forward other candidates.

Politically, reforms that do not conform to the parameters laid down by the mini-constitution and the National People's Congress Standing Committee do not stand a good chance of being adopted. That said, it does not mean the government can impose electoral arrangements. The pan-democrats command more than one-third of the Legco votes and hold the power to veto any reform. Yuen may be trying to manage public expectations when he says the proposals might not be perfect. Ultimately, the package has to be acceptable to all sides.

For progress to be made, compromise is essential. It would be unhelpful if both sides hold onto their ideals. Difficult choices have to be made, or the opportunity to turn the goal of universal suffrage into reality will be missed.