Amid growing pressure for him to step down, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has assigned his deputy, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, to meet with representatives of the Hong Kong Federation of Students in a bid to end the impasse between his government and the pro-democracy protesters.
Many are doubtful if any agreement could be reached in the talks, given the wide gulf between what the protesters are demanding and what the Hong Kong government can grant or willing to do.
Still, the opportunity for a dialogue is better than nothing. The Occupy campaign, which began last weekend, is bound to continue, fuelled by the protesters’ belief in the justness of their cause, and the ball is now in the government’s court to break the deadlock.
While both sides agree that there should be no prerequisites for the talks, their respective positions on the issue are too wide apart that there seems nothing at the moment that could bridge them.
The students insist that there should be no prior screening of candidates for the 2017 chief executive election, that the public be granted the right to nominate the candidates, and that the system allowing for functional constituency seats in the Legislative Council be abrogated.
On the other hand, the Hong Kong government stresses the need to abide by the Basic Law and the National People’s Congress’ decision on political reform, which has ruled out public nomination of the candidates. The central government itself has said there is no way to withdraw the NPC decision, which means the Hong Kong government has very little room to make a deal with the students.
The HKFS, which wrote an open letter to Lam calling for the holding of the talks, must stand tough on their demand for a truly democratic political structure for Hong Kong. Joshua Wong, head of the student group Scholarism and one of the most prominent figures in the Occupy campaign, has urged the HKFS representatives to critically challenge Beijing’s political reform proposal during their talks with Lam, to relay to her the people’s anger over such a fake democratic framework.
Should the discussions go on in this manner, Lam will most likely insist that the Hong Kong government has no choice but to follow the decision of the NPC Standing Committee on the electoral reform package. If that happens, then both sides will be stuck in their respective positions and no breakthrough can be expected from the talks.
Moreover, as the Occupy campaign is being waged by various groups, it would be difficult for the HKFS to represent all members of the protest movement in its talks with Lam. Any deal with the government, such as ending the protests or leaving the occupied areas, could face a challenge from other activist groups.
In fact, some quarters in the protest movement have voiced doubts on the wisdom of holding a dialogue with the government at this stage when the protest organizers should be stepping up the pressure on the government. Some even say that the students should insist that there will be no talks unless CY Leung steps down.
The Occupy campaign is no longer the stage for political parties and politicians, or even Occupy Central with Love and Peace, which kicked off the campaign following the use of tear gas and pepper spray on students over the weekend.
It is now the Hong Kong people who have poured out into the streets to register their anger and show their strength who are calling for genuine political change in the city.
Lam should listen to what the students are saying, rather than stop them by arguing that their demands are beyond what the Hong Kong government can grant. Listen, that’s the first thing that she should do, for that will show that she treats them with respect, that she acknowledges their sacrifices in fighting for their future and the future of our beloved city.
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