On the surface, Beijing is taking a tough stance on electoral reform, insisting that the two sides cannot be equal on the negotiating table. It is giving Hong Kong’s pan-democratic camp two options on electoral reform: compromise or reject its proposal. Naturally, rejecting it means no universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election.
But compromise is a two-way street. It implies that Beijing, too, is willing to be flexible on the issue, if only to keep everything on track for the exercise of universal suffrage in 2017.
Central government officials reportedly agreed to meet with Cheung Man-kwong, as representative of the pan-democratic camp, on Friday to discuss how the issue can be resolved, according to online news portal Post852.com.
If true, such a meeting is a clear signal that both sides are working hard to reach an agreement on electoral reform.
Earlier this year, the Democratic Party indicated that public nomination is not a key issue in the 2017 electoral reform package. It also withdrew from the Alliance for True Democracy, allowing it to adopt an independent stance from the other pan-democratic groups such as Civic Party, People Power and Labor Party, which insist on public nomination of the candidates in the chief executive race.
Beijing knows the critical importance of keeping the lines open for the Democratic Party. Not only does the group hold six valuable votes at Legco, the party’s veteran politicians, including Cheung Man-kwong, Yeung Sum and Lee Wing-tat, have important roles to play at crunch time. It was the party’s last-minute support that enabled the establishment to pass the electoral reform package for 2010, as well as in 2012.
Given the lay of the political landscape, Beijing can play on the differences within the pan-democratic camp, using one approach when dealing with the moderate faction and another when facing the more militant members.
In a meeting last Friday, Zhang Xiaoming, the head of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, talked to the members of the Democratic Party in a friendly, respectful manner. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who attended the meeting, also praised the party leaders for their understanding of Beijing’s stance on electoral reform, paving the way for more productive talks between the two sides.
While Cheung and the Democratic Party did not confirm the Friday meeting, signs are emerging that the pan-democratic camp may not be able to stand together once the electoral reform package comes to a vote at Legco.
Later on Wednesday, the pan-democrats are scheduled to sign a pledge to pursue the fight for a truly democratic electoral reform package based on international standards. But such a show of solidarity may appear meaningless once the Democratic Party pursues an independent track in dealing with Beijing.
Adding his voice to the debate, billionaire Li Ka-shing urged all parties to make progress in political reform, stressing that Hong Kong must move forward and not come to a standstill.
The writing’s on the wall — Beijing has clinched the political reform package for 2017.
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