Hong Kong heads towards confrontation on suffrage

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 2:39am


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Hilton Cheong-Leen has long experience of Hong Kong politics and understands that balance is needed for political change. But his letter on Occupy Central obscured two points ("Activists need to engage in dialogue first", August 9).

First, he asked Benny Tai Yiu-ting to open dialogue with the government. However, it is the government's resistance to timely, real discussions on universal suffrage that has generated much suspicion about its real intentions and support for Occupy Central. Overall support for Occupy Central (25 per cent) is stronger among highly educated, high-income respondents to a Chinese University study - strikingly high, given the serious civil disobedience contemplated.

This support reflects Hong Kong's history of false consultations and recent efforts by hardline elements to redefine the meaning of universal suffrage. Mr Cheong should instead push the government to make overtures and rebuild confidence - which it has failed to do. This failure becomes increasingly likely to push Hong Kong into dangerous times.

As Lau Nai-keung tellingly writes: "... why should Hong Kong citizens be … forced to pay the high price of another Tiananmen Square incident just to create an electoral method to ensure dissidents must enjoy an entry ticket?" Putting aside wrongly describing support for universal suffrage as "dissidence", this makes a clear threat, rather than searching for dialogue. Not very encouraging, especially given current police-public stresses. His Tiananmen reference may still accurately describe the risks. This is a compelling reason for the government to start a sincere dialogue now.

Secondly, Mr Cheong fails to address the key character of civil disobedience: it becomes most powerful when those in authority fail to respond to just calls for action.

The Silent Majority for Hong Kong may persuade the government to start a real discussion, where others have failed. But if our top civil servants believe it reasonable to push a fake "universal suffrage" scheme that denies decent citizens their Basic Law right to stand for election (see Article 26), or places vested interest groups on the same level as citizens in a rigged scheme, Hong Kong will be seriously disturbed by Occupy Central next year.

It would be irresponsible towards the whole community if some of Leung Chun-ying's advisers - those who see political progress as a threat to be suppressed, rather than an opportunity to build a modern Hong Kong - prevail upon the chief executive to stay silent and obstruct a reasonably paced discussion and timely introduction of universal suffrage, as promised in the Basic Law.

Paul Serfaty, Mid-Levels