If there is anything that the student leaders were able to achieve in their dialogue with government officials on Tuesday night, it is the fact that they were able to show to the Hong Kong people they are not the foreign-instigated anarchists they have been portrayed by the administration of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
Though exhausted and lacking in sleep from weeks of struggle in the streets, they were able to maintain their equanimity and reason.
They were able to explain in polite, though forceful, language the reasons for their actions and their demands. They were able to voice their sentiments and complaints and argue with their government counterparts with sincerity, brevity, lucidity and logic.
People who had expected them to resort to virulent accusations and emotional outbursts, or had thought that at some point in the discussions they would walk out or engage in improper behavior, were sorely disappointed.
What they displayed in the talks that lasted for about two hours is the same brand of discipline and order they have shown during their long days and nights in the streets, the same civility that the entire world has come to know and admire.
That said, we cannot agree more with the students that they left the talks with an empty bag. The government representatives led by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam have offered nothing concrete by way of meeting their demand for genuine universal suffrage.
It’s understandable that, at this stage, the student leaders feel that nothing was placed on the table that would convince them to abandon their protests.
What the government representatives have shown is that they cannot offer anything beyond the political reform framework set by the National People’s Congress for the 2017 chief executive election.
They have been reduced to defending and justifying Beijing’s restrictions, such as the need for a nominating committee to vet the prospective candidates.
They were probably taking their cue from their immediate boss, CY Leung, who, in supporting Beijing’s decision, warned that public nomination would result in a situation where people who earn less than the median monthly salary of US$1,800 would dominate the process.
We all know that that’s not true, and it’s a good thing the five officials from the government panel did not raise that argument again during the talks.
What is more feasible is a suggestion from CY Leung himself to increase the number of “democratic elements” in the nominating committee.
He said individual votes instead of corporate votes could be used in selecting the 1,200-member committee, which should help to expand the qualified voters’ base significantly.
It would more practical for the students and the other pan-democratic groups to focus their energy on the composition of the nominating committee, to ensure that it will not be dominated by people and groups who are loyal only to the establishment.
During the talks, the government proposed three major items:
- Submit a supplemental report on the Occupy campaign to Beijing.
- Build a public engagement platform for the post-2017 election arrangement.
- Consider personal votes to replace corporate votes in selecting the members of the nominating committee.
These proposals appear to the best the government could do within the limitations set by the NPC Standing Committee for the 2017 chief executive election.
While Chief Secretary Lam’s panel did not give any timetable or road map, the pan-democratic groups could ask for concrete offers and even link the resolution of the Occupy campaign to the realization of these three initiatives.
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