We are not sure what to make of reports that Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and some of his cabinet ministers have joined or are going to sign on to a campaign against Occupy Central.
But what we know about this effort supposedly to promote a peaceful approach to universal suffrage is disconcerting.
Granted the real motive is as advertised, it nevertheless sets a bad example for government officials. It compromises the government’s neutrality and impartiality and smacks of blind loyalty to Beijing.
We can only guess what Leung’s motivations might be. Is he thinking that by supporting Beijing’s election model for the 2017 chief executive election (screening along patriotic lines by a nominating committee) he can somehow run for a second term?
The anti-Occupy Central campaign has drawn more than 900,000 signatures in the two weeks since it was launched, more than the 700,000 people that turned out for a mock referendum on electoral reform organized by the civil disobedience movement.
The pro-Beijing camp may have the upper hand in the numbers game and Hong Kong officials may have fallen in with the winning side but at what cost to the government?
When Leung and some of his ministers took sides in the controversial electoral reform issue with their statements and actions regarding the signature campaign, they raised concerns about conflict of interest.
That comes from being able to benefit from Beijing’s version of electoral reform if they stand in the 2017 election.
The Leung administration has been accusing Occupy Central of trying to hurt the economy after it threatened a blockade of the business and financial district if the final electoral scheme does not live up to its expectations.
Yet, it has done nothing to bridge the gap with the pan-democrats.
On Tuesday, the founder of Occupy Central met with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam to discuss the issue. No consensus was reached.
Lam called the Occupy Central campaign illegal and tried to persuade its leaders not to go ahead with a planned civil disobedience action. But the government lacked sincerity to ensure progress in electoral reform.
Government officials should stay neutral in the ongoing debate, so that they can serve as a credible and viable bridge between opposing views.
Instead, the administration is mixing up two very important concepts in the discussion — rule of law and political neutrality.
Leung insists there is no grey area between legal and illegal and says the government will not step back while Occupy Central runs away with the argument.
However, given Beijing is yet to finalise an election model, there is still a chance mainland officials could consider the pan-democrats’ proposal (public nomination of candidates and universal suffrage).
An outcome skewed toward more democracy won’t be good news for Leung given his weak support among pan-democrats and the pro-Beijing camp. That could undermine any plans by Leung to seek a second term.
That said, any civil disobedience action could harm Hong Kong. It is not the only means Hong Kong people can show their opposition to any attempt by Beijing to prevent unfriendly politicians from becoming their next leader.
As Hong Kong’s incumbent leader, Leung should reflect Occupy Central’s concerns to Beijing and help persuade China to accept a more democratic Hong Kong.
But now Leung lacks credibility and the moral standing to do that.
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