Consensus the best way forward for electoral reform
The campaigns for and against Occupy Central are dividing Hong Kong, and not just politically. Families, friends and relationships are being affected by who supports which, causing discord and intolerance. The positions of pro-Beijing and pan-democrat politicians are becoming increasingly polarised, making an agreement on arrangements for the election of a chief executive in 2017 ever more remote. The moderate voices behind a recent petition that calls for calm and consensus could not have come at a better time.
Prominent figures from both sides of the political divide signed the petition, which comes ahead of this month's decision on the 2017 poll by the the National People's Congress Standing Committee. The gap between supporters of Beijing and Western-style democracy has always been wide. But even those on the same side cannot agree. The Occupy Central issue has exacerbated tensions, prompting the petition's 39 signatories - including Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing - to warn that already worrying "confrontational sentiments and behaviour" could worsen should universal suffrage not be introduced.
Recent opinion polls put the matter into perspective. A Lingnan University survey, while finding that 55 per cent of the respondents would accept a one man, one vote election no matter how the candidates were chosen, revealed the gap between those who identified with the pro-establishment and pan-democrat camps on the question had widened from 3.3 per cent in May to 9.8 per cent. The city's stability was perceived by a twice-a-year University of Hong Kong study to have fallen and was now at its lowest level since April 2004. The Standing Committee's much-awaited decision will obviously have a significant impact on subsequent surveys, as will upcoming public consultations on political reform.
Politicking for and against Occupy Central has got increasingly vocal, especially on the pro-establishment side. People are being asked to declare which side they are on, creating a "with us or against us" atmosphere.
But Hongkongers should not be so divided at so crucial a time for the city's development. No matter where we stand politically, we have to work together to find common ground so that democratic aspirations can be attained. Beijing has a critical role in the process. Consensus and moderation, not stubbornness and extremism, are the only ways forward.