Nothing positive in a negative question
Nelson Wong Sing-chi, alas, is not the late Szeto Wah.
The long-time core member of the Democratic Party has broken ranks over the pan-democratic stance on the government's electoral reform package.
He argues, not unreasonably, in support of the reform package because the pan-dems have offered no viable alternative. Their rejectionism, he points out, will simply send us all back to where we started. The government package, however flawed and compromised, is at least a step forward.
Rewind back to 2010 when the Democrats reached a deal with Beijing over the electoral reform plan then on offer.
For enabling its passage in the legislature, the Democrats were branded as traitors. Nevertheless, the vocal support of Szeto Wah, who was dying from cancer, gave the Democrats the necessary ideological cover they needed to cut a deal. Szeto essentially made the same arguments about the reform package then as Wong is making now.
Unfortunately, Wong does not have the same prestige and influence as Szeto. It's the same with Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who has taken on his fellow Civic Party comrades for being even more hardline and intransigent than the Democrats.
In retrospect, Szeto was right. The reform he helped to bring about created 10 more directly elected seats and enlarged the election committee for the chief executive from 800 members to 1,200. It committed Beijing to allow universal suffrage in 2017 for the chief executive vote and 2020 at the earliest for Legco. That was a definite democratic advance.
The reform package on the table today does not compare with its predecessor in that respect. And there is no one of comparable stature like Szeto to sell it.
The question we are left with is not a positive one: What do we gain democratically under such a restricted electoral framework? Rather, all we have is a negative question: Is such a deal worse than nothing?
On this one, I believe intelligent and honest people can legitimately disagree.
I so happen to think Wong is right, just as the dying Szeto Wah was right back then.
Unfortunately, I don't feel as sure this time.