No mystery as to how Hong Kong's political reform tale will end

Mike Rowse says moderates from DAB and pan-democrats hold the key

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 3:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 5:50am

When you have eliminated the impossible," Sherlock Holmes told Dr Watson, "whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Applying the same logic to the political reform situation in Hong Kong, it is now possible to deduce the outcome. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong will be deployed to hammer out a compromise deal with moderate members of the pan-democratic camp, and hand it over to the governments involved on a platter.

How can we be so confident? Elementary! The alternatives are all out of the question.

It is impossible for there not to be significant progress in constitutional development in 2016 and 2017 for the Legislative Council and chief executive elections respectively. Top mainland leaders have promised it. The community will stand for nothing less. Failure to deliver would mean a final breakdown of relations between the government and the public, with potentially devastating consequences for social order and the economy. Hong Kong would become ungovernable and this cannot be allowed.

It is impossible for the democrats to get there on their own. For one thing, they don't have the votes; for another, they are now hopelessly split.

Occupy Central was never a particularly good idea and the movement has been hijacked by extreme groups, who one suspects are determined to avoid any deal because their raison d'être is protest. Hence, they plan to invite the public to choose between three alternatives, none of which is viable, all moderate proposals having been left off the agenda.

The ineffectual leadership has had to resort to begging people to vote in the referendum anyway to "send a message to Beijing". But Beijing has already got the message, as have the rest of us: you don't have a clue what you are doing.

It is simply not possible for the local administration to broker a deal, given that it has a credibility problem. Even if it wished to reach an accommodation with the pan-democratic camp, there is no guarantee it could strong-arm the DAB into supporting it. Conversely, if the government were to reach an agreement with the DAB first, the pan-democrats would probably refuse to talk at all. That pretty much guarantees an impasse.

Last time, in 2010, Beijing did negotiate with the Democratic Party and the two sides reached a sensible compromise which produced tangible results. However, the Democrats suffered such a pummelling in the media and subsequent elections from their fellow pan-democrats that no party will risk following the same course this time.

Moreover, the central government will probably want to keep the process at arm's length for safety's sake.

Having eliminated all the impossible options, we are left only with one fairly unlikely possibility: a mutual reaching out across the Legco aisle to come up with a practicable formula that can attract the necessary 47 votes to be implemented. The leadership of the DAB will have to sit down with the Democratic Party, the Civic Party and the Labour Party and hammer out a deal. As a gesture, People Power and the League of Social Democrats should be invited to join, but they probably won't agree.

Interestingly, leading Beijing loyalist Chan Yuen-han has recently reminisced publicly about a time when civilised dealings between political rivals were possible.

Both sides will have to make uncomfortable compromises, but that is the nature of the game in politics for adults.

My fellow detectives, we can hang up our deerstalkers and put the pipe back in the rack. We've solved the case.

Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk