I went into the third and last Leung Chun-ying "consultation" dinner thinking it would be a waste of time. I came out more hopeful that a deal is possible to achieve universal suffrage by 2017.
Judging by their presence at the gathering, the moderates among the pan-democratic and pro-establishment/Beijing camps are closer to each other than they are respectively to the hardliners on the mainland and the youngish democracy radicals in Hong Kong. Indeed, we can no longer allow ourselves to pigeonhole politicians and activists with such simplistic and outmoded political labels. Among the moderates on both sides, there have emerged roughly shared ideas about what the election system for the chief executive in 2017 would look like.
They mostly agree there can be no screening or disqualifying of pan-democratic candidates solely on the basis of their ideology or party affiliation. However, the idea of making all 3.5 million voters members of the nomination committee - a proposal made by the activist group Scholarism and the Civic Party, among other pan-dem groupings - is a non-starter. Such a committee is mandated by the Basic Law and the proposal will do away with it in all but name.
However, it will have to be "broadly representative" of Hong Kong society. Yes, but how?
Moderates agree there are no real conflicts between "the democratic procedures" mentioned in the Basic Law and general criteria in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) under the United Nations. In truth, Article 39 of the Basic Law recognises the provisions in the ICCPR, which protect universal and equal suffrage and the right and opportunity without undue restrictions to vote and to be elected. Yet, a false impression has been created in Hong Kong because democracy radicals often quote the ICCPR against pro-Beijing figures while mainland officials and their local allies cite the Basic Law to mean whatever they want it to mean.
Many Hong Kong people don't care about politics and belong to neither camp. But now is the time to stand up and support those moderates who are willing to negotiate and compromise. We must speak out now before our future is hijacked by extremists and hardliners on both sides.