Reckless drive for democracy would only derail Hong Kong

Regina Ip says the veto on reform will stall HK's democratic development for now - and that may actually be a better path for us than the one favoured by pro-democracy radicals

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 June, 2015, 10:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 June, 2015, 10:30am

The bizarre events of the past 10 days fully confirm the saying that, in any crisis, the "unknown unknowns" are the most difficult part to handle.

For weeks prior to the historic vote in the Legislative Council on a chief executive election by universal suffrage, the police had been on high alert. For the first time since a security warning system was put in place in May, a yellow signal was activated and officers were stationed inside the Legco building ahead of the vote.

It is hard to blame the police or the Legco secretariat staff for overrating the threat - violent attempts to storm the building had been made in the past year amid large-scale congregations of crowds.

Moreover, just a few days before the vote, explosives, airguns and shotguns were found in hideaways in the New Territories. Ten people, including at least one identified as a member of the "National Independent Party", were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to manufacture explosives. It was as though, 410 years later, a version of England's "gunpowder plot" was to be played out in Hong Kong.

In the event, there were few sparks of anger or recriminations in the debate in Legco, which wound down much faster than expected. As widely anticipated, with 28 legislators voting against it, the government motion failed to secure a two-thirds majority.

While the veto was to be expected, by a highly unfortunate mishap, the voting ended with a whimper as 33 pro-establishment legislators failed to cast their votes after staging a last-minute walkout from the chamber in a failed attempt to stall the vote. For more than a week, the voting fiasco overshadowed all other news coming out of the historic veto.

The people who had the best cause to celebrate were probably the sun-beaten, riot-anticipating police who were able to stand down and breathe a deep sigh of relief.

Now that the dust has settled, one fact has emerged clearly. Neither the Beijing authorities nor the government in Hong Kong are minded to re-engage the pan-democrats in constitutional reform consultations any time soon, if at all.

Thanks to the veto, as reform of the chief executive election stalls, reform of Legislative Council elections - notably the retention or otherwise of the functional constituencies - will not materialise in the foreseeable future.

Another fact which has emerged is that Dr Leung Ka-lau, the medical constituency legislator who cast a "no" vote on the chief executive election motion, was not invited to a late supper for pro-establishment legislators hosted by the central government's liaison office on Thursday. Clearly, by casting his veto vote, Leung has been cast out of the pro-establishment camp.

For Leung, a medical specialist who does not need mainland business, the goodwill of Beijing officials perhaps means little. What is clear, however, is that Beijing has drawn a line in the sand about who are considered their friends and who are foes.

In the absence of Beijing's will to move forward on democratic development after the veto of the government motion, a wider question has to be: is Hong Kong's democratic development stuck in a rut?

The answer is very likely yes, and perhaps that's not a bad thing for Hong Kong.

Democracy advocates appear to have identified two possible options. The first one is exemplified by legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah, co-founder of the Civic Party, who shocked Hong Kong's political circles by making two resignations in one day on Monday - first, from the Civic Party, and soon afterwards from the legislature altogether.

Prior to his resignation, Tong, a very senior and highly respected barrister, formed a think tank named Path to Democracy, with a view to bringing together moderate pro-democracy scholars and carving out a "third way" for Hong Kong's democratic movement. Presumably, it will be a middle way forward, which is neither too confrontational to Beijing nor too restrictive for those committed to the Western model of liberal democracy.

At the opposite end of the spectrum remain the likes of Professor Chan Kin-man of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, one of the prime movers of Occupy Central. Chan continues to argue that the only way for Hong Kong to achieve "true democracy" is for the people to fight on, to cause such strong "repercussions" and to make Hong Kong so ungovernable that Beijing would have to give in.

A question that needs to be put to Chan is: if that happens, and leaders like him are elected on "the will of the people" (as were the Greek leaders now facing a financial meltdown and a possible implosion of their country), how would he govern Hong Kong? How would he reverse the decline of our competitiveness and fix the economy? How would he resolve the acute shortage of land and housing, let alone other pressing social problems?

Perhaps the likes of Chan, once in power, would attempt to resolve all our social and economic ills by simply redistributing, rather than creating, wealth, a levelling-down process which would ultimately destroy the secret of Hong Kong's success.

Hong Kong people would be much better off without such a reckless drive for democracy.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party