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Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

For Hong Kong's sake, Legco must pass reform package for 2017 chief executive election

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 April, 2015, 1:23am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 April, 2015, 8:47am

Hong Kong's pursuit of democracy has entered a crucial stage. After almost 18 months of heated debate, the long-awaited reform package for the chief executive election in 2017 was finally unveiled yesterday. The details, unsurprisingly, dovetail with what Beijing had already decided last August. Imperfect as it is, the proposal is still a step forward.

The outlook, though, remains gloomy at this stage, despite efforts by the government to make the contest more competitive. As many as 10 hopefuls will be allowed to come forward for consideration by the future nominating committee under a threshold lower than the existing one for the chief executive race. But as mandated by Beijing, only two or three candidates who secure at least 50 per cent support from the committee at the second stage will advance to a popular vote. The pan-democrats maintain that the restrictions do not give voters a genuine choice and have vowed to vote down the package.

The opposition camp had hoped to make use of the Occupy protests and international pressure to push Beijing for more concessions. But as the outcome shows, Beijing remains unyielding. The pan-democrats are adamant that they will reject the proposals if no major concessions are made. But the reality is that Beijing has made clear that the framework will not be retracted. As the vote in the legislature is drawing near, such posturing does not help bridge the divide and take Hong Kong forward.

Under the proposal, over five million citizens will be eligible to vote in the 2017 chief executive election for the first time. This is undoubtedly an improvement from the existing system that confines the ballot to the 1,200-member Election Committee.

The government hopes public opinion can help sway some of the pan-democrats over the next two months. It is good that the chief executive and other senior officials immediately took to the streets yesterday to sell the package. Various opinion polls have shown that over 50 per cent of the public accept Beijing's framework. If the level of support remains the same, or rises further, the pan-democrats should vote for the package.

One person, one vote to choose the city's leader will be a milestone in Hong Kong's democracy. To make it happen, support from the pan-democrats is essential. It is in the city's interest for Legco to approve the reforms.