Time to use Article 23 as a bargaining chip

  • Now those in the pro-government bloc are talking about bringing in a national security law, Hong Kong’s mainstream opposition could offer to support it in exchange for a new electoral reform road map
PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 5:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2018, 10:07pm

Hong Kong is caught in a bind. We used to have a road map for electoral reform and full franchise. Now it’s gone. Is there hope of reviving it?

Thanks mostly to former lawmakers in the opposition, any possible reform, however imperfect, was scuppered when they voted down the only chance for “one person, one vote” the city had ever been offered, in 2015.

They took the high road and then left the scene, but not before constructing a contrived narrative about our electoral reform failure that fits the preconceived notions of a Western audience ignorant of local conditions and realities. Their supporters, blinded by idealism and oblivious to political realities, cheered them on.

Imagine what we could be debating today if the voting reform package, the one that pan-democratic critics said didn’t meet “international standards”, had passed. Every eligible voter – all 3.7 million – would have been able to cast a vote in the last chief executive election. The elected chief executive would now be busy working with lawmakers for a universal voting reform plan for the entire legislature in 2020.

Oh, critics say the chief executive election reform would have meant vetting of candidates by a committee full of Beijing loyalists. Well, yes, but there would also be a substantial number of opposition figures.

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Having such an elected leader would at least mean he or she is beholden to the local electorate, and not just to Beijing. Let’s face it: having candidates for the city’s leader who could be openly hostile to the central government is a recipe for disaster.

Most probably, the 2020 legislative election wouldn’t be able to meet “international standards” either, that is, a few functional constituencies would likely stay. The predominant influence of the business and property sectors could not be ignored. Even so, the vast majority of the 70 seats would become available for geographical or direct election.

Bear in mind that movement in a positive direction is better than the current stasis; there are scenarios, however unlikely, to revive reform talks.

Now that some figures in the pro-government bloc are talking about legislating a national security law under Article 23, the mainstream opposition could offer to support it in exchange for a new electoral reform road map for the 2022 chief executive election and the Legco one in 2024.

It needs to decide whether cutting off the nose to spite the face is a sustainable strategy.