In politics, the pursuit of perfection may be all in vain

Hongkongers are confronting the question: is compromise the way forward on vote reform?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 5:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 5:05am

Is there anything wrong with a man searching for the perfect wife? Of course not - except if no woman ever matches his expectations and eventually it looks rather like he had no intention of getting married at all. This was the path the debate on universal suffrage took in a phone-in radio show last week.

The male caller was challenging the pan-democrats' insistence on fighting for "genuine" universal suffrage, and questioned whether some really wanted to see a deal for the 2017 chief executive poll.

Pan-democrats, of course, will not agree with this, yet the argument highlighted a point that has emerged of late - is it possible to have an "imperfect" or "mid-way" plan for 2017 to ensure that universal suffrage is implemented in accordance with the Basic Law, while setting a timetable for the later introduction of an "ideal" or "ultimate" arrangement?

Beijing has now made clear that it stands firmly against the public and political parties playing a part in nominating chief executive candidates, opening a huge gap with the pan-democrats who cite so-called public nomination as a precondition for an agreement. The Basic Law states candidates should be nominated by a "broadly representative nominating committee".

With the focus now on whether the pan-democrats could be willing to compromise, Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, head of the city's constitutional affairs, suggested last week that the government would explore the possibility of inserting a clause in its eventual proposal for universal suffrage in 2017, stating that electoral methods could be reviewed and amended later.

Of course, all things in life are subject to change, but the issues here are: if the 2017 arrangement is regarded as imperfect, is there ever going to be a perfect arrangement for genuine universal suffrage beyond that; and by whose standards do we measure such things?

Another practical point is that if 2017 is treated like a mid-way point, does it mean that both Beijing and Hong Kong have to go through all these painful debates again after 2017?

Like it or not, in Beijing's eyes, Hong Kong has been making too much noise politically. "Make less noise, grasp the opportunities for economic development, or Hong Kong will be overtaken by other provinces," so Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, reportedly told local delegates to the National People's Congress in Beijing recently.

Some may not like Beijing's warning, yet in a city that respects the rule of law, achieving universal suffrage within the framework of the Basic Law is a political reality.

One immediate, albeit slim, chance for negotiations to move forward stems from Beijing's invitation to all 70 lawmakers to visit Shanghai, where pan-democrats could engage in discussions with central government officials.

Pursuing perfection is human instinct, but politics is all about compromise. Greater political wisdom is needed to determine if we are to get a "perfect" agreement, a "mid-way" proposal or nothing at all for 2017.