Hong Kong embarks on next step in electoral overhaul as consultation ends
Public consultation is over now, but there's still lots to be done as Hong Kong inches forward in the complicated process of electoral overhaul
As the public consultation on political reform closed yesterday with more than 30 proposals on the table, Hongkongers might be wondering what the five-month exercise has told us - apart from the fact that the city's pan-democratic and pro-establishment blocs are more divided than ever - and what happens next.
In the next two months, officials will go through over 36,000 submissions on political reform, before Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying files a report to Beijing, asking for the National People's Congress' approval to proceed with the overhaul.
The government has said it expects to suggest its own voting proposal by the end of the year at the earliest. Because a two-thirds majority support is needed to pass any reforms, officials have to win over at least five pan-democrats.
The situation is complicated by division among the pan-democrats over the necessity of the public being able to nominate, rather than relying on a nominating committee alone.
On the Beijing-loyalist side, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong wants candidates to secure half of the nominating committee's endorsement before being allowed to go to the public ballot.
This means contenders with strong public backing would have no chance of getting onto the ballot paper if they have only minority support on the nominating committee.
The political stalemate leaves these key questions:
Will Beijing allow a pan-democrat to stand for the 2017 election?
Sceptics believe the answer is no. Beijing has suggested it would be a threat to Hong Kong's prosperity and even national security if someone "unpatriotic" were elected to rule Hong Kong - although Beijing's liaison office chief Zhang Xiaoming has said that not all pan-democrats are "unpatriotic".
Will NPC approval to proceed with electoral reform come with "restrictions", such as a ban on public nomination?
Politicians from across the spectrum believe that is a possibility, but it is likely to trigger protests, especially with the Occupy Central movement and student activists saying they will take a leading role in organising "non-violent actions" in the event reforms fail to live up to expectations.
Will Britain and the United States keep a low profile after Beijing attacked them for interfering in Hong Kong's reform debate?
Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and veteran democrats have argued that Washington and London should speak up. London has been accused of steering clear of the reform debate for fear of upsetting a major trading partner.
Will local officials such as Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor persuade Beijing to heed moderate pan-democrats' demands?
Lam was criticised in March for putting pro-Beijing figures' perspectives above public opinion when she described Basic Law Committee experts' view that there should be no public nomination as having "set a definitive tone" on political reform.
Yet optimists still believe that Hongkongers will bet on Lam - the city's No 2 official and one of the most popular officials in Leung's cabinet - to be an honest broker, who may even be willing to risk her job to give Hongkongers a genuine choice at the 2017 ballot box.
Hongkongers finding common ground on 2017 poll, Carrie Lam says
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor ended the public consultation on political reform on a note of optimism yesterday, suggesting that Hong Kong was "beginning to reach for a consensus" on picking the chief executive by one person, one vote in 2017.
Lam gave a speech at a rally on political reform organised by the Beijing-loyalist New Territories Association of Societies. She said: "Despite all the differences on how to achieve universal suffrage, society is unanimous on achieving [that goal] in 2017.
"I noticed that recently, when different [groups] tabled their political reform proposals, more and more of these plans were based on the Basic Law and the relevant decisions of the National People's Congress Standing Committee," Lam said. "This shows that although public opinion remained divided, if we are willing to base our discussion on the foundation of the [city's mini-constitution], we are beginning to reach for a consensus."
Lam earlier attended a forum hosted by the association with Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, in which Tam warned that the government would have to identify and discard proposals that were not compatible with the Basic Law.
Asked whether he was referring to the pan-democrats' call for public nomination, Tam said: "A final decision has yet to be made on that issue, although proposals that do not include public nomination stand a higher chance."
Lam said she would spend the next two months analysing the submissions handed in since the consultation began in December, and encouraged the exchange of views to continue.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan confirmed that she and party colleague Sin Chung-kai had been invited to discuss political reform with Beijing's liaison office chief, Zhang Xiaoming .
Wong said the meeting could take place at the government offices in Admiralty this month.
Civic Party lawmakers have received similar invitations but have yet to accept.
One of the last proposals to be filed before the deadline came from pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun and a group of eight academics. It suggests a 1,600-strong nominating committee vote on a shortlist of up to eight potential candidates. The most popular candidates - up to a maximum of four - would then be put forward for public election.