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Occupy Central

Both sides must compromise to move forward on political reform

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 5:17am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 8:38am

Hongkongers want democracy - of that there is no debate. The question is how to achieve it. Some adopt confrontational tactics, believing a campaign that paralyses the city's financial district will accomplish what they want. Others opt for a more conciliatory approach. They took to the street on Sunday to oppose Occupy Central.

The pan-democrat and patriotic camps each have public support. In June, some 780,000 people reportedly voted in an unofficial ballot held by Occupy Central. This prompted the rival camp to counter with an anti-Occupy Central campaign. Organisers said they collected more than 1.5 million signatures. The Sunday march and other activities were said to have drawn 250,000 people. As in the case of the annual July 1 march and other mass rallies, estimates of turnout are open to challenge. But if news footage is anything to go by, the Sunday march appeared to have considerable support.

Now that both sides have made themselves heard, cool heads should prevail. Under the Basic Law, changes to the electoral method for the chief executive in 2017 do not hinge on mass protests, but Beijing's consent and two-thirds support in the legislature. For democracy to be achieved, stakeholders should be better engaged. This is essential as the National People's Congress Standing Committee will make a crucial decision on the electoral framework later this month.

It is good to see more dialogue on the issue. Since Friday, pan-democratic lawmakers have been meeting officials from the central government's liaison office in small groups. On Thursday, there will be a session for all lawmakers to meet Beijing officials in Shenzhen. As the chief secretary said, it would be unrealistic to expect an instant breakthrough. Nonetheless, the meetings give both sides a chance to air their views and understand each other's concerns. As reported in the media, Beijing believes that universal suffrage has implications for national security and therefore insists a tight nomination threshold for the Hong Kong leader. But the democrats reject any unreasonable restrictions in the electoral process.

The divide cannot be bridged if both sides refuse to compromise. Instead of pressing the other side to give in, they should perhaps try to address their concerns with practical proposals. Only through dialogue and give and take can consensus be built. It is imperative for both sides to try to forge common ground and move forward.