Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Gap between democrats and Beijing can be bridged, Donald Tsang says, but Hong Kong leader is key

Ex-chief executive says compromise is possible on political reform, citing success in 2010, but city’s leader has a special role to play

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 6:39pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 11:19pm

Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen says the city’s chief executive can bridge the gap on political reform between pan-democratic legislators and Beijing by making each side aware of the other’s bottom line in negotiations.

Tsang said his success delivering reforms back in 2010 – the only electoral changes approved by the city’s legislature since the handover from Britain in 1997 – showed it could be done.

A reform package proposing elections by universal suffrage for 2017 put forward by the last administration led by Leung Chun-ying was voted down by the Legislative Council two years ago. Critics said it failed to offer “genuine universal suffrage”. It followed a 79-day Occupy street protest in 2014 by pro-democracy campaigners opposed to a framework for reform handed down by Beijing.

“What I have often heard in recent years is: ‘Why should I trust [the central government]?’” Tsang told Cable TV in a pre-recorded interview aired on Saturday.

“But it would be very hard to reach a consensus if the gap with the central government gets wider.”

Tsang said the chief executive had a special role to play in bridging divides between Beijing and Hong Kong.

Beijing official ‘has no authority’ to make remarks on political reform, Hong Kong veteran politician says

“The central government knows Hong Kong very well. They have read all the newspapers and paid attention to the radio programmes,” he said.

“But what they do not know is where the room for compromise lies behind the scenes – something that is not disclosed by each of the political parties and Hongkongers [publicly].”

Tsang said Hong Kong’s leader was in a position to find common ground between the two sides as he or she should have a good understanding of both.

The success of the 2010 political reforms was a result of numerous rounds of soft lobbying, Tsang said. The late pro-democracy politician Szeto Wah played a key role in facilitating the deal. The Democratic Party broke ranks with its allies in Legco to back a reform plan that was the result of multiple rounds of negotiation with Beijing’s liaison office in the city. The plan, which other democrats saw as an unacceptable compromise, saw more than three million voters elect five new lawmakers from candidates nominated by district councillors, but many pan-democrats had wanted open nominations for those running.

Compromise essential for political reform to move ahead

Similar compromises did not take place however in the reform push spearheaded by Leung’s administration in 2014, which was based on a stringent framework approved by Beijing.

Tsang, who served as chief executive from 2005 to 2012, was sentenced in February to 20 months in jail for misconduct in public office, becoming the city’s highest-ranked official to be put behind bars. He lodged an appeal on March 8 and was granted bail on April 24.

In the same interview, he defended a contentious policy by his government halting construction of subsidised housing – a measure widely blamed for skyrocketing property prices in Hong Kong today – and he hit out at critics who accused him of not making enough land available for development.

“I did not halt for a minute in boosting land supply,” he said, claiming it took at least 11 years for flats to be built from scratch.

“In other words, newly built flats today came from land developed during my term or that of Tung Chee-hwa.”