21 March 2019
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong people joined the Occupy protests, but the central authorities simply refused to budge an inch. Photo: Reuters
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong people joined the Occupy protests, but the central authorities simply refused to budge an inch. Photo: Reuters

Why not just ditch political reform consultation?

It is rumored that the day this article is published is also the day our government submits its Report on the Recent Community and Political Situation in Hong Kong to the Hong Kong and Macao Office in Beijing.

Given Leung Chun-ying’s notoriously poor approach to and attitude towards collecting, analyzing and interpreting public opinions, and the way public sentiment in Hong Kong was treated by Beijing in the past, I believe nobody would even have the slightest expectations for the report itself and the results it might bring about.

And the second round of the political reforms consultation that is coming soon will definitely arouse even less expectations.

Consultation is supposed to be the primary step in the entire policymaking process, which is aimed at collecting public views over specific policy issues, based on which the administration can then decide whether, when and how to push ahead with such policy, and assess the possible impact it might have on society.

Public consultation is so important because it allows the general public to participate in the policymaking process and influence the way in which policies are shaped.

It is the degree to which policymakers and members of the public interact with each other that constitutes the basic criteria for us to measure the democratic progress of a society, or to decide whether the decision-making process of a government is based on public interest.

Therefore, when it comes to policy consultation, it is the attitude that matters, not the format. And here the right attitude refers to the willingness of policymakers to listen to and accommodate the public points of view, and to make sure those views are reflected in the new policy measures.

That explains why in countries or regions where democracy is fully developed, both the government and members of the public often put emphasis on policy consultation and respect its results. In contrast, places where policymakers either disregard public consultation or see it as a mere formality are often ruled by dictatorship.

Before the handover in 1997, Hong Kong was still under British rule as a colony. However, since the United Kingdom is among the handful of countries that first introduced democracy in modern history, genuine public consultation still occupied an important position in the policymaking process of the colonial administration.

Unfortunately, after 1997, perhaps under the growing influence of Beijing, the SAR government began to treat public consultation as nothing but a formality, and the general public therefore had to resort to other unconventional means to express their views in order to influence policymaking.

The July 1st Rally in 2003 was perhaps the most striking example in which members of the public had to express their disapproval of government policies by other means, resulting in the withdrawal of the Article 23 legislation. Another example was the campaign against the Moral and National Education syllabus in 2012, which also resulted in its stillbirth.

The people of Hong Kong were able to force the SAR government to back down in those cases, but this time, over the political reform issue, what we are taking on is the notoriously autocratic Beijing regime, and everybody knows only too well that the so-called public consultation is as much a formality as a scam.

During the first round of the consultation last year, basically every faction across our political spectrum, from the extreme pan-democrats to the conservative pro-Beijing camp, all put forward their reform proposals. To everybody’s surprise, however, the framework laid down by the “831” resolution of the National People’s Congress was even more conservative and rigid than those proposals.

When the Umbrella Movement broke out, tens of thousands of Hong Kong people resorted to civil disobedience, instead of the more conventional ways of protests, hunger strike or civil referendum, to express their anger, but the central authorities simply refused to budge an inch. Then the SAR government held a single dialogue with the students, and wrote a report on recent public views, which I bet even they themselves didn’t take seriously.

Given its foregone conclusion, I suggest the administration simply call a halt to the second stage of the public consultation, and directly submit its reform proposal to the Legislative Council for a vote. It won’t make any difference whether the proposal is passed or defeated in the end as the central authorities can continue to handpick our chief executive, and there remains no genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

So why not just finish off the whole thing quickly so that we don’t have to waste our time on endless squabbles?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 6.

Translation by Alan Lee

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Legco member representing the Legal functional constituency (2012-2016) and a founding member of Civic Party

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