Universal suffrage

'Seize the day' on reform, John Tsang tells city

Financial secretary channels Robin Williams in plea for democracy ahead of crunch talks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 5:31am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 10:31am

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah yesterday warned that "an entire generation of Hongkongers would bear a heavy political cost" if the city fails to "seize the day" and implement universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election.

Tsang penned his latest thoughts on electoral reform ahead of today's gathering of the National People's Congress Standing Committee for a seven-day meeting in Beijing which will set the framework for the vote.

Before departing for the capital, local delegates to the NPC said they expected Beijing to announce "a high nomination threshold" for hopefuls - likely to mean they must win support from at least half of the nominating committee tasked with picking candidates. Such a high threshold is unlikely to be accepted by pan-democrats, who hold enough Legislative Council votes to veto any reform package.

In his blog, Tsang drew inspiration from the Latin phrase carpe diem - meaning "seize the day" - which has been in the news following the death of actor Robin Williams, whose character exhorted the term in the movie Dead Poets Society. Tsang urged Hongkongers to seize the critical moment in the reform debate.

"Once universal suffrage is implemented, all candidates will have to face the whole of Hong Kong regardless of their political views or backgrounds. They will be held accountable on all issues concerning politics, livelihoods, economy and governance," Tsang wrote. "We should not overlook this point and conclude only candidates from a certain group would be accountable … This would distort the actual operation of universal suffrage."

The financial chief has waded into the reform debate before. In May, he wrote that universal suffrage in 2017 was vital to stability. Earlier this month, he said "a perfect financial economic storm" is a slowing economy coupled with political uncertainty.

The Standing Committee was not due to discuss the city's political reform until tomorrow at the earliest and would vote on it by Sunday, said Basic Law Committee member Maria Tam Wai-chu.

NPC delegate and Executive Council member Cheng Yiu-tong and former chief executive contender Henry Tang Ying-yen both said the meeting was expected to set the nomination threshold at not less than half of the nominating committee.

Tang said it would be reasonable, as candidates must gain a certain degree of recognition, adding: "I also hope the NPC will leave room for Hong Kong to discuss it [further]."

Democratic Party legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan said a high threshold fell short of international standards of democracy.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung