Government haste in handing reform report to NPC could backfire
The government is about to release the results of its stage-one election reform consultation. And just as quickly, they will be handed to the standing committee of the National People's Congress. This is despite wise advice from a group of leading local non-partisan scholars and the Democratic Party to delay doing so.
Political passions are running high. That is all the more reason to try to calm things down. We need to avoid igniting the powder keg created by Occupy Central and its supporters. But handing the report to the NPC at this juncture is likely to do just that. It will provide the perfect opportunity for Occupy to go eyeball to eyeball with Beijing.
Contrary to pan-democratic misinformation, the report will provide reasonable accounts of some 130,000 submissions. But given the staggering number of viewpoints, critics can always find faults with overemphasis or insufficient emphasis of this or that proposal.
No matter what's in the cards, Occupy Central will find an excuse to go ahead. And it is under pressure to do it either this month or next when the kids are out of school. This is a movement that needs to fill its ranks with as many young people as possible to give it a veneer of youthful participation and legitimacy as a shield against criticism and law enforcement.
The government should make a high-profile gesture to delay handing the report to the NPC to allow Hong Kong people more time to digest its results.
As Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said: "If more organisations in Hong Kong are willing to talk, find space, and come up with a proposal that can be considered by different [stakeholders], I think Beijing might change their rigid and tough attitude."
And, as one of the scholars writes: "Political opinions in society need some breathing space to engage each other for this process to ferment."
The government has refused, though, saying we have had enough consultation already. The initial goal was that the exercise would help reach common ground. Yet Hong Kong is more divided today following the consultation than before.
We need a cooling-off period to de-escalate, whereas going to the NPC quickly is likely to trigger more recriminations.