My Take

John Tsang’s empty words on political reform

Chief executive hopeful is promising to restart the process for universal suffrage but there is little room for manoeuvre given Beijing’s stance

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2017, 1:35am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2017, 1:35am

John Tsang Chun-wah has managed to steal a march over his arch-rival in the chief executive race by coming up with a policy platform first.

What immediately catches the eye is how many pan-democratic pet causes he has promised to pursue. The man is really going after the pan-dems’ votes on the Election Committee.

He has promised to restart the political reform process for universal suffrage; review the time-honoured automatic appointment of the chief executive as chancellor of all the public universities; and enhance “procedural justice”, rule-based government operations and transparency.

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The last item is presumably a dig at rival Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who has drawn much flak for authorising the construction of a local version of Beijing’s Palace Museum at the West Kowloon arts hub without prior consultation or tendering.

But the main attraction is no doubt the promise to revive the political reform process. That really sets him apart from the Beijing-friendly crowd. It’s an article of faith among many in the business elite and the pro-establishment camp that there is no point in reviving the failed reform exercise.

Indeed, they have a very good argument. The central government will not compromise on the so-called 8-31 framework – the blueprint laid down by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee for electoral reform in Hong Kong on August 31, 2014 – that imposes restrictions on the number and qualifications of chief executive candidates, and on the methods of their selection. And there is no way the pan-democrats would ever accept the 8-31 framework. So any attempt to reintroduce reform would not just be a waste of time, but would lead to more acrimony and recrimination. Who wants to risk another Occupy Central?

My guess is that Lam also accepts this line of reasoning. But Tsang is no fool. The only way he could win the chief executive race is to get on board with the pan-dems on the Election Committee by promising some kind of reform, or rather talk of reform.

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It is prefaced with qualifications on his policy platform: “Find common grounds, build consensus, truly reflect views to the central government, create a favourable environment for political reform.” But what if there is no common ground or consensus to reflect back to Beijing? What if the city’s political views are even more divided than before? Call me cynical, but the most that Tsang as chief executive would do is to launch a public consultation on political reform. And that would be the end of the matter.