Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Hong Kong must find the courage to restart electoral reform dialogue

Tik Chi-Yuen says a year after legislators rejected the government’s proposal, the opposing camps must come together to seek a breakthrough – for the sake of the city’s democratic development

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 11:33am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 4:19pm

Constitutional reform has been off the agenda in Hong Kong since last year, when the government’s proposal for the chief executive election was rejected by the Legislative Council. There has been a year of stalemate, and it is time for all sides to take courage and restart the dialogue on this important issue.

Calls to relaunch political reform process are fraught with danger

The National People’s Congress, the Hong Kong government, and Legco are required to advocate for democratic development under the principle of “one country, two systems”. Their obligations are enshrined in the Basic Law, which gives the city a solemn undertaking that the chief executive and lawmakers will ultimately be elected by universal suffrage.

Though criticised by Western-style democrats, the pioneering “one country’s two systems” model, which was tailored for Hong Kong, is still reliable and dynamic.

Democracy in Hong Kong must be advanced in stages

When people are empowered to elect their official leader, their government must be open-minded and listen to the views of its citizens. When the chief executive is elected by the general public via universal suffrage, the government has to be people-oriented. This has been the long-term goal of pan-democrats. Any deviation from this ideal would result in dismissal by some hardliners in the camp. That is why the pan-democrats slammed the government’s reform package as “substandard” and voted against it in 2015.

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Unfortunately, their uncompromising attitude has gone to the extreme, giving no opportunity for the government to settle any differences. Since the 2015 failure, Hong Kong’s constitutional development has been delayed further. If this situation persists, there will be little opportunity for political reform, which would result in a lack of democratic development for Hong Kong.

If nothing changes, the endless fights and bickering will continue

The central government has agreed to implement universal suffrage step by step, as specified in the Basic Law. The political status of Hong Kong is without precedent, which is why the central government is so cautious and meticulous about the rate of its democratic development. Beijing is worried that any rush towards constitutional reform may result in a threat to national security.

That is also why the 2015 electoral reform package was the best option for the city at that moment, so that development would proceed gradually, without triggering disharmony in the whole country.

Obviously, both sides share the same ground with regard to the implementation of universal suffrage in the future. The critical argument relates to the pace of this development. This is the gap that both the pan-democrats and Beijing have to try to bridge immediately.

If the opposing sides do nothing to overcome their differences, there is no chance for settlement, and no future for democracy. Without constructive dialogue, without trust, there will be no room for compromise or manoeuvre. This ending would only result in dragging the development of democracy into an abyss. If nothing changes, the endless fights and bickering will continue, and the spirit and energy of the Pearl of the Orient will continue to be eroded. It would be a lose-lose situation for all.

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It is time for both sides to restart the conversation. We need sincere communication and a reconstruction of mutual trust. This could increase the possibility of ending disagreements, and even breaking the current political deadlock.

Someone has to take the lead on restarting the discussion on the schedule for universal suffrage. Moderate democrats could liaise with the clashing sides, provided the central government extends an olive branch. That applies to the opposing democrats as well, who should extend this goodwill to the government.

We need to see a meeting in the middle, with constructive dialogue, take place as soon as possible.

Tik Chi-Yuen is chairperson of the Third Side