Former Chief Secretary Anson Chan among others attend a press conference aims at pushing political reform in Hong Kong. Photo: David Wong
Mike Rowse
Mike Rowse

Democrats must let their voices be heard on reforms

Mike Rowse says bottom-line consensus should be put to government

This week, the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation will publish its proposals for political reform. As a member, I will be attending the launch press conference, not to show support for the specific ideas - I took no part in the drafting process, and have reservations about some of them - but, rather, to endorse the concept of the pan-democratic forces putting forward their own detailed proposals.

Other groups are also at work in this area and we can look forward to a raft of ideas in the next few months. It is vital that the community then engage in a thorough public debate. What must emerge is a detailed consensus on the democrats' bottom line. The government badly needs this input to assist in drawing up its own proposals.

How will they be able to show they love Hong Kong and China, if indeed they should have to?

For, as is by now widely understood, there are not enough pro-government lawmakers to enact reform legislation by themselves. If there is to be any progress, some pan-democratic legislators will have to vote for it as well. So, it would help the public debate if those councillors who are inclined to support the administration would also take part. This would enable them to have a better understanding of the strength of public feeling in certain areas, and also provide an opportunity to put a brake on wilder reform suggestions.

Looking first at options for the 2016 Legislative Council election, there will have to be changes in the way some functional constituencies choose members. It is surely time to end corporate voting, for example. Does there also need to be a minimum threshold for the size of the electorate?

Would changes to the functional seats, by themselves, represent adequate progress or should there also be a shift in the overall balance between functional and geographical constituencies, in favour of the latter? Outright immediate abolition of all functional seats is unworkable because their votes would be needed. But is some sort of halfway house feasible?

For the chief executive election in 2017, will the nominating committee have to endorse all candidates, as some have suggested, or will it be sufficient, as now, for a candidate to secure a certain level of support? What should that level be and how should the committee itself be constituted?

As for the candidates, is it time to drop the ban on party membership? How will they be able to show they love Hong Kong and China, if indeed they should have to do so at all?

The reluctance of the pro-establishment camp to join the debate now is disappointing. More than one has suggested they could only start to discuss ideas once the government's own proposals had been published. Given the reluctance of all administrations to go back on their own proposals once promulgated, that is akin to saying "we can only start to think about it when it's too late".

But even the pan-democratic side is showing signs of flakiness. Two prominent members have fallen out because one wants to make sure the nominating committee goes about its business in a fair way while the other wants to scrap the committee, even though it is a constitutional requirement.

Other democratic supporters have also been acting strangely. One woman hung up during a phone call from the police because she was "too tired", then later expressed surprise when she was arrested. Another lay down in the road to impress the chief executive with her support for universal suffrage. She then confessed to having uneasy feelings after being picked up by a police officer. Did she expect him to use levitation? A professor plans to lead 10,000 people in an orderly procession to Central, confident they will all disperse peacefully at the end.

It all reminds me of the song . What did Judy Collins tell us some 40 years ago? Don't bother, they're here.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Democrats must now make their voices heard on reforms