ELECTORAL REFORM

Beijing's top man in Hong Kong to meet pan-democrats for talks on electoral reform

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 11:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 1:56pm

Beijing's top man in Hong Kong will meet pan-democrat lawmakers this week and next to discuss electoral reform.

The pan-democrats hope to persuade the central government to present a flexible framework for reform later this month.

But leading advisers to Beijing said the meetings with central government liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming would be only symbolic.

The four meetings, which begin on Friday, will be chaired by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and held at the government headquarters at Tamar. The other two officials overseeing reform for the 2017 chief executive election - Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen - will also attend.

A meeting with Democratic Party lawmakers on Friday will be followed by ones next Monday to Wednesday with the Civic Party, Labour Party, Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood and independents. Radicals - including the League of Social Democrats, People's Power and lawmaker Raymond Wong Yuk-man - are not invited.

"We hope Zhang could pass on a clear message to Beijing not to close all the possibilities for further negotiation," Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said.

Members of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee are expected to meet between August 25 and 31 to lay a framework for the second round of consultation on the city's first "one person, one vote" election.

If it doesn't happen in 2017, the next chance for reform may not be until 2027, because of the polarisation of the debate, according to a source familiar with the matter.

"The chief executive elected [in 2017] would not have an incentive to start consultations on universal suffrage," the source said.

Zhang said on Thursday that electoral reform had to be considered from the "perspective of national security" and Beijing must not allow Hong Kong to become a base for subversion.

Bernard Chan, an executive councillor and NPC delegate , said yesterday he expected Beijing would require chief executive candidates to obtain support from at least half the nominating committee.

Leong said a high threshold would mean Beijing was abandoning the Basic Law's promise of "gradual and orderly progress" towards democracy.

But Cheng Yiu-tong, another executive councillor and honorary president of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, said the time for dialogue was over. "The Standing Committee may have made the decision on the framework already."

Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the meetings would have only symbolic meaning.

"Pan-democrats know well the meetings may not be useful in narrowing the differences between them and Beijing, because there is a huge gap," Lau said.

But he added they couldn't afford not to attend because it would be difficult to explain their reasons.

Lau said he would not be surprised to see a 50 per cent nomination threshold. "Beijing won't take chances as it believes national security is at stake," he said.

Separately, a mainland source said the committee would lay down principles such as preventing people who confronted Beijing from being elected.