26 August 2019
This is a screen grab from the latest attempt by the Hong Kong government to set the agenda in the political reform debate. Photo: HK Govt
This is a screen grab from the latest attempt by the Hong Kong government to set the agenda in the political reform debate. Photo: HK Govt

Occupy Central: What now?

It’s rather late in the day but the lateness of the hour is not stopping the Hong Kong government from a last-minute campaign to get Hong Kong people to accept an electoral reform package that is less than ideal.

If anything, it’s an admission that the final version will not be perfect, short of saying that public nomination, the preferred selection model by Hong Kong pro-democracy groups, is dead in the water.

In a few days, the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, is expected to rubber-stamp the final product.

The new campaign by the Hong Kong government goes to the heart of the issue in six short words: “Your vote. Don’t cast it away.”

The 15-second video is the latest attempt by the government to appeal to the so-called silent majority in the face of a highly polarized debate over electoral reform between pan-democrats and pro-Beijing backers.

The pan-democrats want public nomination and universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election while pro-establishment forces have aligned themselves with Beijing’s preferred selection model that involves screening along patriotic lines and one-man, one-vote in the election phase.

Once again, the Hong Kong government is trying to set the agenda for the political reform debate by simplifying the argument in the TV campaign.

It’s woefully short on detail about how those aspiring to be Hong Kong’s next leader should be selected. A 15-second television clip, no matter how well scripted, cannot possibly articulate the entire message of such a complicated political issue.

But its impact on public consciousness could be immense. Already, pan-democrats are being made out to be troublemakers.

It remains to be seen whether the government will succeed but it’s clear the campaign is itself polarizing. And by taking sides, the government has reduced itself to a player in the political drama.

Interestingly, a recent survey commissioned by a group of businessmen and politicians shows more than half of Hongkongers will accept one-man, one-vote in the chief executive election even if they are not satisfied with the way the candidates are chosen.

That means the selection process does not have to be by public nomination.

It’s an indication more people are beginning to share the pro-establishment’s views on the reform proposal. By comparison, the pan-democrats have hardened their all-or-nothing stance.

How much of this shift in perceptions (presumably by the silent majority) can be attributed to concerns about Occupy Central’s threatened civil disobedience if the final version of the proposed reform does not meet its expectations is difficult to gauge at this time.

Neither can anyone say how recent revelations about secret political donations by Next Media founder Jimmy Lai to pro-democracy groups will shape events going forward.

What’s becoming clear is that the Hong Kong government — and Beijing — may yet get their wish.

The question for the Hong Kong government is whether it had to go all this way in the first place. For Occupy Central, the question is: What now?

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EJ Insight writer

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