The second stage of the public consultation on political reform officially kicked off Wednesday.
The content of the consultation paper, however, is nothing more than a formality, because whatever the paper suggests, those who accept the framework laid down by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s resolution of Aug. 31 are inclined to take the government’s reform package, while those who are against the “831” resolution won’t even bother to look at the consultation paper in detail.
All they will do is simply open a yellow umbrella and walk out, like the pan-democrats did during the Legislative Council meeting Wednesday.
The government admitted it would be an uphill battle to win the support of the pan-democrats over political reform in the 2017 election for chief executive.
Yet Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said Wednesday if the entire election mechanism can demonstrate fairness, impartiality and transparency, the government might be able to convert some moderate pan-democratic lawmakers who believe that under such a mechanism even people with different political views might stand a chance of getting nominated.
As a matter of fact, there is not much room for maneuver under the NPC’s framework for local officials in charge of the political reform.
Even some government sources conceded that all they can do is lower the entry threshold so that more pan-democratic hopefuls can qualify for a nomination committee ballot.
And by making the nomination process more transparent and democratic to allow more opportunities for pan-democratic figures to contest in the race, they hope members of the committee will be more eager to take public opinion into account when choosing the final candidates.
As the old Chinese saying goes, it’s like trying to cure a dead horse as if it were alive — which means trying everything you can to turn a hopeless situation around even though the odds are against you.
However, it remains questionable whether the support of the pan-democrats can be won merely by introducing a more democratic nomination process, given the government has already predicted there won’t be much change in the composition of the nomination committee.
In the worst-case scenario, Beijing won’t approve even the mild suggestion that the votes of companies be replaced by the votes of their directors, a proposal regarded by many as just a token concession.
Government sources went on to say that before the outbreak of the Umbrella movement, pro-government lawmakers from the agriculture and fisheries, insurance and financial services sectors were about to accept, even though rather reluctantly, the government’s proposal to reduce their seats on the nomination committee.
Unfortunately, the movement changed everything, as lawmakers from these sectors began to toughen their stance, arguing that their constituents should not be penalized after they had given whole-hearted support to the government in its time of difficulty.
Moreover, they argued, even if the number of their seats on the nomination committee is reduced, that won’t help much in winning favour with the pan-democrats.
Beijing also toughened its stance on electoral reform after the Umbrella movement, so it seems there is nothing much the government can do to introduce more democratic elements to the nomination committee.
So when the administration officially launched the second stage of the consultation, it candidly reminded the public that when discussing the possibility of changing the composition of the nomination committee, we must take into serious consideration the feasibility issue and the wishes of members from different sectors; otherwise it would be difficult for our society to reach a political consensus.
Given all the odds, it seems the only room left for discussion is the nomination process itself.
We can perhaps only rely on the nomination committee members to cast their votes to choose the official candidates for the election according to the public’s preferences instead of Beijing’s orders.
But most pan-democrats don’t seem to have high hopes that their pro-establishment counterparts will do the right thing.
The government desperately hopes it can turn things around over political reform, but can it really do so?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 8.
Translation by Alan Lee
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