Pan-democrats refuse to back down in quest for reform

Democracy will not fall from the sky nor be handed by Beijing as a gift, say campaigners

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 4:50am

The pan-democrats have vowed to continue with their plans to engage the public in discussing political reform, despite statements from senior Beijing law official Qiao Xiaoyang over the weekend.

Qiao, chairman of the Law Committee under the National People's Congress, insisted that Beijing reserved the right to veto any candidate whom it considered to be confrontational, and specifically referred to recent actions and statements made by pan-democrats.

He also cited the Basic Law as saying that the future nominating committee must be seen "as a whole", hinting that the "democratic procedures" in the nomination could serve as a screening mechanism. The remarks defied the pan-democrats' calls against any kind of political screening in the nomination process.

Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy, the recently convened group comprising all 27 pan-democratic lawmakers, said he believed Qiao's remarks aimed to "manage the expectations" of Hong Kong people.

"On our part it is simple. We are pursuing an ideal, which is to fight for a democratic system that respects human rights and is on par with international standards," he said. "Democracy will not fall from the sky, nor will it be handed by Beijing as a gift."

Cheng, a political scientist at the City University, believes democracy is good for Hong Kong, as well as cross-strait relationships.

"If the calls for democracy are denied in the end, all parties will have to pay the price," he said.

Cheng insisted that the issue was not whether pan-democrats could enter the 2017 chief executive poll. Instead, it was about whether Hong Kong people could freely elect whomever they wished.

"It is the people in Beijing who should reflect if they are so worried about Hong Kong people electing someone who opposes the central government," Cheng said.

Benny Tai Yiu-ting, a University of Hong Kong associate law professor, said his plan to block the roads in Central on July 1 to pressure Beijing to keep its promise of universal suffrage by 2017 would be a last resort.

"It would not have to happen if the authorities' proposal was in line with public expectations towards democracy," he said.

He said he could still see the possibility for a proposal that fulfiledl both the requirements of the Basic Law and international standards of universal suffrage.

"It will depend on the composition of the nominating committee as well as the definition of 'democratic procedure' in the Basic Law," he said. "I do not see that the Basic Law and the international standard are mutually exclusive."

Meanwhile, an e-petition has appeared on the UK government's website urging the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to join the debate on the city's democracy.

Last night 823 people had signed the petition, which closes at the end of August. According to the British government, e-petitions obtaining more than 100,000 signatures - only by British citizens or British residents - can be debated in the House of Commons.