15 September 2019
An 18-member scholar group had put forward a relatively mild proposal for electoral reform in Hong Kong, but still failed to get acceptance from Beijing. Photo: HKEJ
An 18-member scholar group had put forward a relatively mild proposal for electoral reform in Hong Kong, but still failed to get acceptance from Beijing. Photo: HKEJ

HK democratic dream: Time to shed the illusions

If anyone had harbored hopes that Beijing would accede to a more democratic framework for the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive election, it is time to shed the illusions once and for all.

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee is said to have issued on Wednesday a draft paper that pours cold water on any dreams for true democracy in Hong Kong under Chinese rule. What the city will have to settle for is a half-baked universal suffrage model where only those favorably disposed toward Beijing can run in the election for Hong Kong’s top post.

Under the conservative electoral reform package for the 2017 poll, only two or three persons will be allowed to stand as candidates. And a person can join the race only if he or she secures the support of at least half of the members of a 1,200-strong nominating committee.

What it effectively means is that China’s Communist leaders will have complete control over the selection of candidates, with “love China and love Hong Kong” serving as the guiding principle, while all pan-democrats will be eliminated from the contest.

Several senior pan-democrats, who had supported Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in the 1980s, had earlier hoped that the Communist Party will grant true democracy to the former British colony. But the dream has burst now following the apparent decision of China’s top legislative body. Even some scholars who had a softer stance have been angered by Beijing’s proposal.

The draft proposal outlined by the NPC Standing Committee is expected to be formally ratified by Beijing on Sunday.

Brian Fong, a scholar who was prepared to accept a mild electoral reform package, said the reported NPC panel decision — which was tougher than anticipated — marks the end of an era of Hong Kong politicians and intellectuals longing for a so-called “Return to Chinese rule in a democratic way”. 

Scholars were seen as a neutral group in the current electoral reform debate as they have no conflict of interest in fighting for democracy. They are aware of the concerns of both Beijing authorities and Hong Kong people. So, they put forward a proposal to retain the nominating committee, rather than stand firm on public nominating right with regard to candidate selection, to fit in with Beijing’s legal framework.

But at the same time, the scholars called on Beijing to ease the entry barrier in the chief executive contest. Support from one-eighth of the nominating committee members should be enough to qualify a person to join the race, they proposed.

The proposal, which was mooted by 18 scholars, tried to strike a balance between Beijing and pan-democrats’ interests, following the one country two systems framework to meet the demand of both sides. But the NPC move shows that Beijing has ignored the proposal.

Meanwhile, the latest development also indicates that the 5-month long public consultation held by the Hong Kong government on electoral reforms was only a public relations show and that it had no impact on Beijing’s decision. A civil referendum in late June and massive pro-democracy rally on July 1 also failed to move Beijing.

Beijing’s decision reflects the lack of trust between Hong Kong and Beijing, as Hongkongers have been fighting for democracy for more than 30 years since the 1980s, prior to the city’s handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

Beijing does know what Hong Kong people want –a fair and open government and Legislative Council representing Hong Kong people. Although locals respect the sovereignty of China over the city, Beijing tends to treat democrats as traitors to the motherland, believing that democrats are linking up with foreign nations for intervention in Chinese internal affairs and threatening national security.

The lack of mutual trust has forced some moderate groups to either clam up and stop communication with the authorities, while encouraging others to adopt an aggressive tone to fight for justice.

The opposition groups, no matter whether they are mild or aggressive, could now join forces and participate in various civil disobedience campaigns including Occupy Central, as well support a second round civil referendum to voice out the public opinion on the NPC proposal. It will be worth watching whether the 26 pan-democrats in the Legislative Council will veto the electoral reform package, making it clear that Hong Kong people will not accept an unfair electoral mechanism.

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EJ Insight writer