Occupy Central

Only through pragmatism can Hong Kong achieve universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 4:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 8:31am

Hongkongers have once again demonstrated their strong aspirations for democracy. More than 787,000 people voted in an unofficial ballot set up by the Occupy Central campaign to push for universal suffrage. Although the results lack legal basis and have been criticised by some as dubious, the 10-day ballot remains the biggest exercise yet for the people to express their views. Even though the public do not necessarily endorse the civil disobedience campaign, the clamour for democracy expressed through the ballot box should not be brushed aside.

The higher-than-expected turnout was said to have been boosted by recent events, including the row about developing the northeastern New Territories and Beijing's white paper on the implementation of "one country, two systems". Cyberattacks and tough rhetoric against the ballot also fuelled negative public sentiment. Even when officials opted for a more conciliatory tone after the strong initial turnout, daily voting figures continued to rise. Whether the momentum spills over to the protest march today will be closely watched.

Buoyed by what they have called the people's victory, the democrats may think they now stand taller in front of Beijing. But the stakes have been raised so high that it does not bode well for consensus on the way forward. Not only has the ballot strengthened support for allowing voters the right to nominate chief executive candidates - a concept firmly rejected by Beijing - it effectively gives democrats a mandate to reject proposals that fail to meet international standards. The growing pressure to veto means dwindling space to manoeuvre.

Despite strong public support, public nomination is unlikely to be adopted. To Beijing and the Hong Kong government, it remains legally unsound and politically unacceptable. Although all three options in the ballot involved public nomination, the one put forward by the Alliance for True Democracy was relatively moderate and provides more leeway Unsurprisingly, it also received the most support - over 42 per cent of the votes. It opens the window for further negotiation and, hopefully, room for compromise.

The reform consultation will move to a second stage after the government has submitted a report to Beijing. It is important that the stakeholders can work out an electoral package that addresses people's democratic aspirations. Only through pragmatism can universal suffrage be achieved.