Compromise essential for political reform to move ahead
Comments by a top official that the city could not just focus on political reform over the next five to 10 years while ignoring socio-economic issues has fuelled uncertainties over the path to universal suffrage. But the aspirations of the people cannot be brushed aside
Hong Kong’s quest for democracy has proved to be a challenge. Of the three political reforms proposed by the government since the handover, two were deemed not going far enough by the pan-democrats and were therefore rejected, including the one in 2015 to elect the chief executive with a popular vote this year. The latest remarks on the way forward by Wang Zhenmin, the legal chief of the central government’s liaison office, just fuel more uncertainties.
Wang is right in saying that the city could not just focus on political reform over the next five to 10 years while ignoring developments in housing, economy and people’s livelihood. But we hope he was not saying that we should not broach universal suffrage again before 2027. If so, the earliest timetable for one person, one vote would be effectively pushed back by a decade at least.
The Basic Law says changes to the electoral method for the city’s leader require the consent of the chief executive, two-thirds support in the legislature and Beijing’s approval. In 2004, the Hong Kong government further established the protocol for the chief executive to first submit a report requesting reforms, followed by endorsement by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to launch the process. While initiation of any changes comes from the chief executive, the reality is that no reform can be accomplished without Beijing’s blessing.
It is true that the setback in 2015 has left many Hongkongers disappointed, if not in despair. But the clamour for democracy remains unchanged, if not stronger. It is difficult to see how the next two terms of government could brush aside people’s aspirations for universal suffrage. Chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has sensibly left the door open. Having steered the ill-fated reform herself, the former government No 2 must have realised how difficult it would be to bring Beijing and the pan-democrats to a consensus. But she pledged that the new government would strive to create the favourable conditions to launch the process again.
Challenging as it is, the goal of universal suffrage requires efforts from all stakeholders. While the electoral framework laid down by the state legislature is unlikely to be changed, Beijing needs to address the democratic aspirations of the people. Likewise, the pan-democrats and their supporters should be prepared to rethink their position. For progress to be made, compromise is essential.
Universal suffrage and livelihood are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is up to us to convince Beijing that we can strive to create a favourable political environment for democratisation without holding back socio-economic development.