Universal Suffrage

Leaders must ease Hong Kong worries over 'sham suffrage'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 March, 2013, 3:30am

I refer to the article by Bernard Chan ("2017 election is but a step on nation's road to modernity", March 22).

I agree with him in two respects. First, Hong Kong voters would never choose a person unacceptable to Beijing. Second, universal suffrage in Hong Kong is significant to the modern reforms in China. However, Mr Chan has underestimated the serious concern about a sham universal suffrage manipulated by Beijing in 2017. It is a gathering hurricane rather than "a storm in a teacup".

The nomination process stipulated in the Basic Law, as Mr Chan points out, is supposed to be a technical procedure to produce a manageable list of candidates. It is distinguished from a political procedure in which a person may be denied candidacy because of his political beliefs.

Many in Hong Kong are afraid that Beijing may take the nomination process as a political selection, which runs contrary to the public expectation of a true democracy.

Worse still, high-ranking Chinese officials openly commented that "loving China and loving Hong Kong" is a criterion for candidacy and that opposition camp members "against the central government" would not be allowed to be chief executive.

These blunt comments reinforced and substantiated fears that the chief executive election in 2017 would only be a sham universal suffrage monitored by Beijing.

To play down public concerns, Mr Chan claimed that he never heard about such a scheme from senior Chinese officials. Unfortunately, his insider information gives no comfort to Hong Kong people. Even Mr Chan had to admit that public fears about such a sham in 2017 caused uproar before in Hong Kong. I believe they would still do so today - and in future - if not addressed properly.

I have reached a different conclusion to Mr Chan's judgment on the situation.

Since "society is so polarised at the moment", there is an urgent need to start public consultation for organised debates. Yes, "people are in a jumpy mood" but they will become more restless if they are ignored. Indeed, an early public consensus is crucial to reduce political uncertainty and maintain investor confidence in Hong Kong.

Mr Chan should advise Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying not to bury his head in the sand and to start consultations as soon as possible.

This will not only make political discussions regular events but also give Beijing an opportunity to assess public opinion more accurately.

Patrick Cheng, Tai Po