Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Visiting US congressmen nudge Hong Kong lawmakers towards compromise on electoral reform

One of three US congressmen visiting city hints at compromise over 2017 election rules, saying 'sometimes half a loaf is better than no loaf'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 3:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 3:14pm

Three visiting US congressmen yesterday discussed with Hong Kong's lawmakers across the political divide the possibility of a compromise over electoral reform, with one suggesting that "moving forward, sometimes half a loaf is better than no loaf".

However, the bipartisan delegation, who also met Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, stopped short of endorsing the reform plan for the 2017 leadership race.

They are not trying to convince us but to learn more about the debate

Making the call about moving forward, Matt Salmon, a Republican who chairs the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, also told leaders of the four pan-democratic parties that a system where "people are elected by the people" was better than one in which leaders were chosen via a narrow constituency.

Salmon, fellow Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Alan Lowenthal arrived in the city on Thursday on a fact-finding mission to learn about developments in Hong Kong. They held meetings yesterday with Leung and lawmakers across the spectrum on the government's reform package, which pan-democrats have pledged to reject.

Labour Party chief Lee Cheuk-yan said the congressmen had described the proposed chief executive election plan as "definitely not equal suffrage".

He said they were asked by the Americans the reasons for rejecting the package and whether they would accept other options within the proposed framework.

"They are not trying to convince us but to learn more about the reform debate," said Lee after the one-hour meeting that was also attended by Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit and Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee.

Fung said the congressmen had described the reform plan as not fully democratic but had stressed it was a decision for Hongkongers to make.

Giving a different take, Tam Yiu-chung, ex-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong who also met the trio, read the congressmen's interest in compromise as a signal that they wanted to see the reform package passed.

"They asked us was there any room for compromise … such as whether the composition of the nominating committee could be changed," Tam said. "If they do not want the package to be passed, why would they ask such questions?"

But Tam told the three congressmen the reform plan, which rules only two or three hopefuls who secure majority support from the 1,200-member committee can run for the top job, was unlikely to be altered.

In the meeting with Leung, the chief executive stressed that the government's blueprint strictly complied with the legal framework set by the Basic Law and the decision by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

A senior government official said many US politicians - including the three visiting congressmen - were in favour of implementing "one man, one vote" first in Hong Kong even though the proposal was imperfect.

"It's hard to say if pan-democratic lawmakers will be swayed by the US congressmen' pragmatic attitude as pan-democrats claim they will vote down the reform blueprint even if a substantial majority of Hongkongers back the proposal," he said.

Albert Chan Wai-yip, lawmaker from the radical pan-democratic group People Power, called on the Americans to raise more concerns over Hong Kong's democratic development amid what he saw as the deterioration of human rights and freedom.

Liberal Party legislator James Tien Pei-chun said he told the congressmen it was much better to allow five million voters to elect the chief executive than having a leader chosen by 1,200 people.

"I feel they agreed with my point," Tien said, adding that the congressmen spent most of the time at the meeting listening to his views.