Hong Kong cannot afford to stand still on the subject of electoral reform, but must prepare for the arrival of universal suffrage in 2017 by debating the issue of constitutional reform.
That was the consensus, and a rare moment of unanimity, at the South China Morning Post's "Redefining Hong Kong Debate" yesterday. The panel consisted of four people with widely divergent views: Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, often identified as pro-establishment; former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, considered to be in the pan-democratic camp; businessman David Tang; and columnist Alice Wu.
The debate was timely. The government recently announced its plan to kick-start the consultation on electoral reform by the end of this year under the leadership of Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
"Standing still [on electoral reform] is not an option," said Tsang. "Not only will there be a general disappointment and resentment, but more importantly the past 16 years of experience … have exposed very serious flaws in governance," he said, referring to the city's handover from Britain to China in 1997. "There is no turning back. We have to move towards democracy."
He said that although the election method for the chief executive could still be polished after 2017, it was impractical for the government to introduce a "temporary proposal" for 2017.
"The  proposal should satisfy Hongkongers' as well as lawmakers' demands … or else the arguments on that would never end," he said.
Watch: SCMP Debate Series: Passage to 2017 - The Next Milestone of One Country, Two Systems
Tsang, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, was responding to the moderator, former executive councillor Ronald Arculli's question: "Is standing still an option for Hong Kong?"
Tsang also said "some very serious flaws" in the current governance system had to be fixed.
The present unsatisfactory legislative-executive relationship and problems with the ministerial system are among the flaws, he said, along with problems surrounding the Executive Council.
"Exco members are currently appointed by the chief executive. While they enjoy enormous power, the whole operation of the council is confidential. Should this [practice] be kept unchanged?" Tsang asked.
"We have to make sure when democracy comes, it will be good democracy and will be successful," said Tsang, adding that even with a popularly elected chief executive, governance would remain ineffective if the flaws were not resolved.
Meanwhile, Chan, the former government No2, said Hongkongers have waited long enough for democracy, and that political turmoil had increasingly plagued the city's government over time.
"We have been waiting … for 28 years since the [first] direct election to the district councils. Yet we are still waiting," said Chan, now convenor of the political group Hong Kong 2020.
"I think there is a growing consensus the government is broken. We are facing political turmoil."
She said universal suffrage should live up to international standards - where every person has an equal right to vote and stand for equal election, and that their votes also carry equal weight.
Watch: The Post's exclusive interview with Anson Chan
Chan also urged the business community to actively participate in politics, by forming parties and grooming their own leaders.
Tang highlighted the problem of the perceived influence of Beijing on the government.
"The central problem is we have people coming in as the chief executive who are telling us they are not in charge," said Tang. Another problem, he said, is "the chief executive has to second-guess what Beijing thinks - and he got it wrong most of the time."
Post columnist Alice Wu called for the use of more conciliatory political language. "We have lost the language of political reconciliation," said Wu, emphasising the need to find common ground. "We can talk out the differences."