Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Hong Kong must stick to rational debate on political reform package

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 April, 2015, 12:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 April, 2015, 9:16am

Whether Hong Kong can achieve universal suffrage in 2017 remains uncertain at this stage. But last week a government promotion for its "one person, one vote" proposal got off to a bumpy start. The chief executive and some of his ministers were mobbed by protesters while selling the reform blueprint at a housing estate. During a bus parade around the city on Saturday, officials only stayed on the upper deck and waved to the crowd, a move they say was to avoid clashes with opponents.

Admittedly, the drive-around did little to facilitate dialogue and exchange. It may also give the wrong impression that officials are reluctant to set foot on the ground and listen to dissenting voices. But the truth is that officials would have engaged the people directly had they not been besieged by radical activists earlier. The scene might have become more chaotic had they faced the crowds.

Similar scenes cannot be ruled out as the government takes its campaign to all districts in the city. Worryingly, clashes with the police and between rival camps now appear to be the norm rather than the exception. And now that pan-democrat lawmakers have also launched their publicity drive to counter the government's promotion, the battle to win public support is expected to escalate further - as will tension and clashes.

Like the government and its supporters, the pan-democrats have the same right to reach out to the people and explain their stance on the reform package. But they must do so within the law.

The chief executive has said that he would not be scared off by unruly behaviour. But officials will become the target of radicals if the road show continues. The top leader is right in saying that those opposing the government proposals should make themselves heard through civilised means. The pan-democrat lawmakers said they had no plans to chase officials around. But this view is obviously not shared by a small number of people, who are determined to cause disruption. Officials should keep the arrangement under review to ensure they can reach out to the public in an effective way.

Democracy is about tolerance and respect for differences. Those resorting to radical actions do so at the expense of our fine tradition of peaceful protest. What we need is rational debate on the pros and cons of the reform package.