POLITICS

Martin Lee pulls controversial plan for Hong Kong chief executive poll reform

Democrat apologises to his supporters as he withdraws controversial proposal to allow five candidates to run for chief executive in 2017

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 7:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 April, 2013, 8:27am

Martin Lee Chu-ming yesterday retracted a proposal for electoral change he put forward a day earlier and apologised to his critics in the pan-democratic camp, saying he had "let them down".

The dramatic U-turn by the founding chairman of the Democratic Party underlined the gap between Beijing and the pan-democrats on political reform.

It was also an indication of the dilemma facing pan-democrats - whether to open talks on practical issues, such as the rules for nominating chief executive candidates within the parameters set by Beijing; or stick to its call for "genuine universal suffrage".

Lee had proposed that candidates for the 2017 chief executive election could be nominated via a screening process.

But he conceded it was "a rash decision" to put forward the controversial plan for universal suffrage before seeking advice from fellow pan-democrats.

"I believe this is the wrong time to post my opinion, particularly for what I said would be acceptable to me as the bottom line," Lee said. "After reflection, I have no hesitation that I should retract that proposal."

I believe this is the wrong time to post my opinion, particularly for what I said would be acceptable to me as the bottom line. After reflection, I have no hesitation that I should retract that proposal

Lee said he was "under no pressure" to make the U-turn and added: "I apologise to all people concerned … particularly my long-time supporters. But my fight for democracy certainly will not end and I will continue to fight for a fair and open election."

Lee had suggested at least five candidates be admitted into the 2017 race, allowing at least one pan-democrat to compete.

But this would mean accepting the 1,200-strong nominating committee, with its formation based on the existing election committee, and that the candidates be nominated by the committee "as a whole", as suggested by Qiao Xiaoyang , chairman of the National People's Congress Law Committee.

The idea got a warm welcome from government loyalists. Tai Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper, said Lee's proposal was "way better" than the action proposed by the Occupy Central movement. But the Alliance for True Democracy - a coalition of all 27 pan-democratic lawmakers - said it was unacceptable.

Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convenor of the alliance, said Lee had made a wise decision to withdraw the proposal. "Our bottom line - for the past 30 years - is genuine universal suffrage," he said.

Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said the lesson to be learned was that any idea should be discussed widely before being made public

Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Beijing-friendly Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, was disappointed Lee retracted the idea so soon. He said: "It will add difficulties in reaching a consensus to achieve universal suffrage."

Ma Ngok, of Chinese University, said Lee's proposal had accepted "too low" a standard for universal suffrage. "Lee should realise he is not helping the cause of the pursuit of democracy."