Don't give up: a consensus is still possible on Hong Kong electoral reform

Tik Chi Yuen calls on both Beijing and the pan-democrats to emulate their 'rational' talks of 2010 to seek a breakthrough on electoral reform

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 May, 2015, 12:36pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 May, 2015, 4:27pm

Hong Kong is fast approaching the deadline for reaching a consensus on the proposed reform of the chief executive election in 2017. Supporters and opponents of the government package have less than a month to make compromises. Yet, the fighting continues. Sincerity is required to break the deadlock, for the sake of Hong Kong's development. If both sides can take one step forward, we'd be halfway to a resolution.

Beijing has confirmed that the August 31 framework won't be altered; nor will it give room for concessions. However, we should not ignore public opinion polls showing about 50 per cent of surveyed citizens want the package approved; 40 per cent don't and 10 per cent are unsure. No matter how hard the government has tried to lobby for more support, the figures haven't changed much. It means no side is capable of achieving an absolute majority, while both sides have a solid backing. If Beijing is determined to tackle the crisis, it has to allow improvements to be made, or leave some room for manoeuvre. Only then can this sensitive issue be handled properly.

For their part, pan-democratic lawmakers should take the initiative and seek a better election system within the political framework. Such advocacy could include rational, sincere and direct talks with central government representatives.

There's a precedent for direct dialogue - the 2010 ice-breaking negotiations on electoral reform for 2012.

Pan-democratic legislators were certainly unhappy about the lack of democratic development in the 2012 proposal, and argued for months for an increase in the participation of elected district council members in the chief executive and Legislative Council elections. They put forward concrete recommendations, including abolishing the district council appointment system, and requested that the government draw up a timetable for implementing universal suffrage.

More importantly, three core members of the Democratic Party, Albert Ho Chun-yan, Emily Lau Wai-hing and Cheung Man-kwong, met the then deputy director of the liaison office here, Li Gang. According to news reports, Li said the rationale behind the meeting was their willingness for "rational" communication.

Other democratic lawmakers and supporters, including Lee Cheuk-yan, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, Chan Kin-man and Frederick Fung Kin-kee, attended a second meeting. As a result of the fruitful negotiations, Beijing agreed to the Democratic Party's proposal for the public to elect five "super seat" legislators in the district council functional constituency, in return for the party backing the 2012 reform package. We should cherish this experience.

There is currently a third option being considered to move electoral reform forward, which includes suggestions to abolish corporate voting and introduce a "blank vote" for voters dissatisfied with the candidates.

Such an alternative could boost the approval rating from half to, say, 70 per cent, which would represent overwhelming support.

We can still achieve a breakthrough if we work together and seek a consensus. We have to remain optimistic as long as there is a glimmer of light.

Tik Chi Yuen is a member of the Democratic Party