21 August 2019
Protesters take to the streets on July 1. In the battle for political reform, different pro-democracy voices should be heard. Photo: Bloomberg
Protesters take to the streets on July 1. In the battle for political reform, different pro-democracy voices should be heard. Photo: Bloomberg

Universal suffrage: Take it or leave it

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy champions seem to have no idea how good they got it.

But the hardliners among them are risking everything with their all-or-nothing approach to electoral reform.

They need to step back to make room for sobriety and reason and allow different pro-democracy voices to be heard.

The best argument for a return to pragmatism is this: whatever form the proposed election reform model takes, Hong Kong will have universal suffrage in 2017.

The alternative is the status quo – no directly elected chief executive and back to how things were conducted in 2012.

Occupy Central and some hardline pan-democrats are sticking to their guns and that is a problem.

That’s because both have the power to influence events, the former with the threat of civil disobedience and the latter with the use of their numbers in the Legislative Council to veto the proposed reform.

In a few days, we should know the answer to a question Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying posed to China’s legislature about the need, if any, to change Hong Kong’s election law for the 2017 vote.

By all accounts, Beijing will say yes but it will insist on a screening method for choosing the candidates to ensure Hong Kong’s next leader will toe the official line. It will go along with one-man, one vote once this tricky hurdle is overcome.

For that purpose, sources say Beijing does not consider all Hong Kong democrats unsuitable. But those that don’t qualify know who they are.

In the hands of this small group of hardliners and their backers lies the future of Hong Kong’s democratic development in the next decade or so.

Their position on the reform proposal is as inflexible as it is superficial. They say anything that does not return the candidates by direct vote is a sham, so they want the candidates not only directly elected but also nominated by the public.

Fair enough, but universal suffrage a sham?

How do you justify disenfranchising a great majority of Hong Kong voters only because your version of universal suffrage differs from theirs?

When you know how good you already got it, why throw it away?

Since the hardliners don’t seem to see their way clear to ensuring the future of democracy in Hong Kong beyond the short term, perhaps they should work backwards, from the starting point of universal suffrage, on down to the selection of candidates.

Hopefully, they will see room for compromise and start working with their moderate colleagues and other democracy groups on an acceptable – and viable – alternative.

Beijing will then have no excuse to be unchanging on its part.

It might agree to make the selection committee more representative and scale back the requirement that any candidate should get the support of a majority of the committee in order to qualify.

In any case, the outcome can’t be too bad for Hong Kong’s political future.

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EJ Insight contributor

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