Hong Kong's pan-democrats should set aside their self-interest and pass political reform plan

Joanne Cheung believes many legislators in the camp oppose the government's political reform plan out of fear or personal grudges, rather than concern for the people

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2015, 1:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2015, 1:52pm

In a recent get-together with a veteran pan-democrat, I posed the million-dollar question: "What are the chances of pan-democrats changing their stance on political reform?" Pessimism was all I was able to elicit from my friend. Beijing officials' adamant stance on electoral reform, expressed in their latest meeting with pan-democrat lawmakers, has shattered any remaining fantasies the pan-democrats may have had about possible concessions from the central government.

The message is crystal clear: Beijing is not going to buckle at the eleventh hour, and it will take a hard-nosed attitude towards extremists in the pan-democratic camp.

According to the pan-democrat veteran, there are generally a few schools of thought within the pan-democratic camp, excluding those who support independence for Hong Kong and/or those who are unfalteringly opposed to the central government.

Firstly, there are those who personally prefer a more moderate approach, but unfortunately are bundled together with the radicals. While these pan-democrats may not find the electoral reform plan entirely satisfactory, they believe that a system based on "one person, one vote" for the 5 million eligible voters in Hong Kong is a big step forward from one based on a 1,200-person nominating committee.

Yet none of these pan-democrats is willing to be the first to indicate a change of stance, for fear that the finger of blame would be pointed in their direction, or they would become a target of attack by others in their own camp.

Then there are those who hold a grudge against the central government for its rejection of their proposal for electoral reform. To these embittered democrats, the battle is more personal.

Last, but not least, there are those who think that acting mischievously will not cost them a cent; on the contrary, they believe it will earn them political bargaining chips.

Some even see disruption to law and order in Hong Kong as a badge of honour, for recent history has shown that a legislator can throw things, raise a ruckus, filibuster, or participate in a civil disobedience movement without being seriously punished or asked to bear other grave consequences. These pan-democrats seem to believe that by belittling, insulting or physically clashing with government officials, they can earn more support from their voters, while officials can do nothing about them.

The pan-democrats' turn towards radical action isn't only a problem within the Legislative Council, according to my friend. Many pan-democratic members outside Legco, especially the younger generation, are uncompromising in their opposition to the reform package, as they see being radical as the only way to ascend the political ladder.

If my friend's insight is a reflection of reality, then the democratic development of Hong Kong is bleak. Democracy is all but lost as these pan-democrats have hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons. First, they said they would not necessarily heed public opinion on political reform. Now, they are stuck in a stalemate because they lack the courage of their convictions, or have an axe to grind.

Hong Kong's road to democracy is bound to be bumpy with lawmakers like this, who focus on their own self-interests.

It certainly boggles the mind: just what kind of road do the pan-democrats intend to lead Hong Kong down? It's worth pondering how much democratic development Hong Kong has been able to achieve in the past two years, blighted as it is by disputes centred on political reform.

Be it a big step or small, there is only one way to pursue democracy: by going forward. The political reform framework is an opportunity that doesn't come along every day, yet the pan-democrats are showing no signs of compromising. In a city where society's well-being and people's livelihood issues are being overwhelmed by political disputes, Hongkongers can only wish for a miracle.

Joanne Cheung is acting executive director of Hong Kong United Foundation