Political divide narrows on public input into electoral reform

Discussions over dinner find pro-Beijing camp apparently more receptive to canvassing opinion

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 August, 2013, 4:45am

Pro-establishment politicians appear to be keeping an open mind when it comes to proposals to set up an independent panel to canvass the public's views on political reform.

At a dinner hosted by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Thursday, former Democratic Party lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong suggested that the government set up such a panel to solicit Hongkongers' opinions on electoral reform.

According to Cheung, the panel would be similar to the Basic Law Consultative Committee in the mid-1980s.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the government would consider the idea.

Dr Priscilla Lau Pui-king, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress who was also present at the dinner, made a similar call for the establishment of an independent panel before the chief executive formally starts a consultation on political reform.

She said the panel could be composed of former Basic Law drafters, members of the Basic Law Consultative Committee and university chiefs.

"The panel would collate public views and submit a report to the government before it formally kicks off the five-step procedure to amend the electoral process," Lau said.

She said the panel could spell out the pros and cons of proposals for achieving universal suffrage in its report for the government's deliberation.

"Many guests at the dinner shared my views," she said.

According to the NPC Standing Committee's interpretation of the Basic Law in 2004, the five-step procedure would start with the chief executive submitting a report to the Standing Committee on whether there is a need to make an amendment to the electoral procedure laid down in the Basic Law.

That would be followed by a Standing Committee decision on whether to approve an amendment.

Chinese University sociology professor Chan Kin-man, who is one of the organisers of the Occupy Central movement, suggested that the independent body be set up along the lines of the colonial-era Survey Office.

Doing so would improve transparency when canvassing public opinion, he said.

But he also mentioned that the colonial government had been criticised for manipulating the views of some Beijing-friendly groups to ensure that no clear mandate emerged for direct elections in 1988 - and he said that led him to suggest that Leung appoint a retired judge to chair the body.

"This is a very critical reform for Hong Kong's democracy," said Chan. "We need a chairman with high credibility to make sure they gauge public opinion in an impartial way."

Lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin of the Federation of Trade Unions said the format of the consultation was not the main issue.

"It depends on whether the pan-democrats, who seem to be very ready for Occupy Central, have the sincerity to discuss [political reform]," he said.

But Liberal Party leader James Tien Pei-chun panned the idea, saying that the current consultation arrangements would do the job.

He asked: "What if Leung appoints all his allies and supporters to the new body again?"