18 April 2019
Ronny Tong, Charles Mok, Kenneth Leung and Frederick Fung (clockwise from top left) could help swing the vote for the electoral reforms package that was outlined by Beijing for Hong Kong. Photos: Reuters, HKEJ
Ronny Tong, Charles Mok, Kenneth Leung and Frederick Fung (clockwise from top left) could help swing the vote for the electoral reforms package that was outlined by Beijing for Hong Kong. Photos: Reuters, HKEJ

Will pan-democrats keep the flame burning?

With student protesters likely to be evicted soon from their remaining camps, ending the street Occupation that began more than ten weeks ago, the focus will return to pan-democratic lawmakers in the fight for political reforms in Hong Kong.

Will the lawmakers keep alive the spirit of the Umbrella Movement and push the government to yield concessions on the 2017 chief executive election framework? Or will they opt for compromise with the Leung Chun-ying administration and approve the roadmap outlined by Beijing? 

This is the question that is uppermost on the minds of political observers as Hong Kong prepares for a new chapter in its civic life.

Well, if one were to go by the pronouncements of Leung himself, the answer will gladden the hearts of pro-Beijing groups and dampen the mood of democracy activists.  

Speaking on a radio program Monday, Hong Kong’s leader said he looks forward to securing support from the Legislative Council for passage of the 2017 electoral reform package next year. The package which was announced by Beijing at the end of August this year, requires approval from two-third of the Legco members to get through.

Leung appeared confident that he can push the legislation, hinting that some pro-democratic lawmakers will change their mind and vote in favor of the proposal.

Even though the pan-democrats had earlier vowed to vote as a bloc, there’s a possibility that some may break ranks, Leung said. The government needs at least four members from pan-democratic camp to vote in favor of the proposal for it to pass.

Leung pointed out that the threshold was high but stressed that he will try to garner support to complete what he described as an “historic task”, and urged the opposition camp to accept Beijing’s proposal for pre-screened election candidates.

With the suggestion that some pan-democrats would be willing to vote along with pro-Beijing groups, Leung is once again playing the public opinion war as the government prepares for the second round of public consultation on the controversial 2017 electoral reform plan.

His remarks could split the already dispersed pro-democracy camp, which is struggling to come up with an effective strategy to counter the central government’s proposal.

In the 70-seat Legislative Council, the government needs 47 members to vote in favor of the electoral reform package. It means that negative notes should not be more than 23. Now, the pan-democrats, including those from the moderate and radical wings, have 27 seats. Thus, Leung needs at least four members from the pan-democratic camp to support the proposal.

Lawmakers from the pro-democracy camp said previously that they will vote en bloc to oppose the electoral reform package when it is put up for Legco approval next year. But such commitment shouldn’t be treated as iron-clad, given that one day is too long in politics, and as politicians have their own interests in engaging with Beijing.

Already, there is speculation as to which lawmakers are likely to support the Beijing proposal. Civic Party’s Ronny Tong figures high on the list, given his efforts to narrow the gap between the pan-democrats and Beijing earlier this year for a more democratic proposal. He didn’t succeed in his mission, as Beijing maintained its tough base line on the election process, but still he is seen as someone who is chummy with Beijing authorities.

Two other votes could be from members of the functional constituency seats. Information technology sector representative Charles Mok and accounting sector representative Kenneth Leung are among those that could approve the electoral reforms bill. The two lawmakers would represent their industry interests, rather than act on their own. The government may offer carrots to the sectors to make Mok and Leung support Beijing’s proposal.

As for the remaining one vote, it could come from either a member of the Democratic Party, or Frederick Fung of Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood. Democratic Party has lost the support of the youth after members walked into the Central Government Liaison Office to clinch a deal with Beijing to approve an electoral reform package for the 2011 and 2012 elections.

Fung, meanwhile, has been labeled as a pro-government democrat given his Beijing-friendly background.

Beijing and Hong Kong governments have stood firm during the Occupy campaign, rejecting all the appeals by students and other protesters for nominating rights to all qualified voters and to improve the composition of the nominating committee.

After the hard-line stance, authorities may reserve sweet spots for some pro-democracy politicians during the next round consultation on the electoral reform package, as well as be ready for a last-minute deal with them.

The administration is waiting for an appropriate time to offer the olive branch. It will then be up to the lawmakers to decide whether they should compromise and pass the bill, or whether they should stand by their core belief for a more free electoral system and genuine universal suffrage.

As of now, the odds appear to be stacked in favor of Beijing.

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EJ Insight writer

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