Hong Kong's moderates must save the day (and democracy)

Alice Wu says the time has come for centrist politicians to defy the cynicism of the radicals and work together for an agreement on electoral reform

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 3:59am

Back in April, I was optimistic about electoral reform. Looking back, that optimism seems almost incredible. But then again, there were reasons to be optimistic: discussion was ongoing, and more than a few academics were hammering out a possible practical solution for electoral reform.

Today, no one seems optimistic. The glimmer of hope for constructive dialogue has gone out: Albert Chen Hung-yee, a Basic Law Committee member and one of the originators of the "civic nomination" proposition, and Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing have said they're "not optimistic". That definitely puts a damper on the official start of the five-step process for political reform, signalled by the chief executive's report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Anchors might have been aweigh in 2010 when then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen launched his "Act Now" (in Chinese, "Anchors Aweigh") reform campaign but, today, the vessel seems to be drifting further from the destination by the day. It's almost depressing, but sulking isn't going to help.

Given the pragmatism attributed to Hongkongers, it's hard to understand why our own odyssey seems to be doomed. Whether we can skirt the land of the sirens without hitting rocks and sinking requires more than courage and wisdom. It's going to take every bit of political beeswax we can muster to plug our ears from the enchanting songs of doom. It's going to take every political moderate in Hong Kong and Beijing to sail us out of harm's way.

The unfortunate course that we have charted so far - one that has been divisive and focused on the extreme ends of our political spectrum - will not result in the consensus we need. Those efforts never were going to build a consensus, because they were only ever aimed at drumming up support among followers and shooting down those who differ. Those were efforts to build the arsenals of bargaining power.

The hour has come for the bargaining to take place, for compromises to be made in the dangerously narrow crevices of complex political manoeuvring. More threats from either side will achieve absolutely nothing.

True leadership isn't measured by how far one can take arrogant dogmatism, or how high one can raise the crest of public fury. Those who continue to refuse to take their seat at the actual negotiation table are tomfools: refusing to engage in genuine politicking accomplishes nothing. Sticking only to indignant verses of condemnation is prattle, nothing more. Inflexibility isn't the language of persuasion and it shouldn't be treated as a political virtue.

Our only hope to avoid crashing and burning rests with the men and women who are ready to face the challenge as it is, as impossibly hard as it seems. The hardliners have had their day; the time has come for moderates to be called to action. Their ability to see the difference between what "ought to be" and what "can be", their will to work against the impasse, and their courage to take risks in practicality will guide us through. It's the only way Hong Kong and Beijing can survive.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA