Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Departing Wharf chairman urges pan-democrats not to block reform package

Outgoing Wharf chief Peter Woo joins other tycoons in asking the pan-democrats to approve reform and give residents universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 May, 2015, 1:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2015, 5:52pm

Exiting Wharf chairman Peter Woo Kwong-ching offered some parting words on politics yesterday, urging pan-democratic lawmakers not to vote down the government's electoral reform package lest they deprived locals of the chance for universal suffrage.

A Legislative Council rejection of the package would be tantamount to forcing residents to relinquish their right to elect the chief executive democratically in 2017, he said.

Woo, a standing committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top national advisory body, was the latest Hong Kong tycoon to express support for the government's reform efforts, which adhere strictly to conditions laid down by Beijing.

He also ruled out running for the top job again, after coming in third in a three-horse race in 1996 that picked the city's first local leader. "I will not take part in the chief executive election because I have zero interest in it … If you are the chief executive, there are so many things bothering you" from all directions, he said.

"I have just left [the office of Wharf chairman] - maybe we should not describe it as a hot kitchen - but are you asking me to jump into the fire pit?"

Woo, 69, was speaking in a 105-minute media session after stepping down at the annual general meeting of the firm he had spent 37 years with. He passed the chairmanship to his deputy, Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, but will stay on as a senior adviser.

The seasoned businessman initially talked about the economy, but when the South China Morning Post asked him about political reform, he spent about 25 minutes dwelling on the topic.

Woo said Hongkongers were now so attached to the idea of "one man, one vote" in electing their leader that depriving them of it would be like stripping away a right the five million registered voters "already possess".

He compared the offer of universal suffrage to a meal that had been swallowed, and said lawmakers threatening to veto the reform were essentially asking people to vomit up their rights.

Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit, one of the 27 pan-democrats who have vowed to vote down the package when it goes before Legco in summer, countered that they oppose the plan only because their supporters believe it will deprive them of a "genuine" choice of candidates in the city-wide poll.

"The popular ballot … would be used only to legitimise and legalise a political screening system," Leong reiterated. "To me, we are better off not getting it."

Beijing has ruled that when Hong Kong elects its leader by universal suffrage in 2017, voters must choose from two or three candidates endorsed by a 1,200-strong nominating committee.

In March, New World Development chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun voiced "worries" that the business environment and public sentiment would worsen if the reform efforts failed. Then last month, Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, also said every Hongkonger would end up a "loser", as it was unclear when reform would be allowed again.

Woo declined to say if a failed reform would hurt businesses, but suggested he was not overly concerned because he was confident in Beijing's "one country, two systems" policy. "Hong Kong has weathered a lot of stormy and rainy days. I am … absolutely confident in Hong Kong's energy to tackle challenges [because, since the handover] it has outperformed all expectations."