At least you can’t fault Leung Chun-ying’s government for not trying.
When Chief Secretary Carrie Lam launched the second round of the government’s public consultation on political reform on Wednesday, she came up with a catchy slogan: Seize the Opportunity.
Indeed, why should Hong Kong people pass off this rare chance to directly elect the next chief executive in 2017?
The framework set by Beijing may not be perfect, but at least it gives us the opportunity to elect our own leader, so goes the government line. And if we lose this opportunity, we will be back to the old scheme in which a few people will decide for us.
Isn’t “one person, one vote” a lot better than a return to the “small circle” brand of election?
As is so obvious all along, Lam is repackaging an old proposal that has caused deep divisions in society with shiny wrapping. By using exhortative instead of combative language, she hopes to convince the silent majority that the government proposal points to the right path in the territory’s pursuit of universal suffrage. Let’s get there one step at a time.
Lam warned that if the proposal is rejected, Hong Kong people will have to wait until 2022 for another chance to vote their chief executive.
But as Democratic Party leader Emily Lau has warned, the first round of consultation sparked the 79-day Occupy campaign. A second round of the same useless exercise will only cause further divisions in society.
Instead of foisting the same “Beijing nominates, Hong Kong people vote” charade, the government should consider a poll on the Beijing proposal to be able to secure a franchise from the public.
A second public consultation will serve no purpose since the people, through various means such as protest marches, civil referendum and the 79-day Occupy campaign, have already rejected Beijing’s framework for electoral reform.
Beijing may be offering universal suffrage, but the people now know that the devil is in the details. Beijing may allow the people to cast their ballots in the chief executive election, but it doesn’t give them the right to nominate the candidates.
While the government says Hong Kong people expect to vote for the next chief executive in 2017, the mechanism cobbled by Beijing to allow that to happen remains controversial. Various surveys conducted by local universities show that more than 40 percent of the respondents reject Beijing’s electoral reform package.
From the government perspective, it has no choice but to follow Beijing’s decision on Aug. 31, 2014, which limits the number of candidates to 2 to 3, and provides that all aspirants for the post must secure more than half of the vote from the 1,200-member nominating committee.
And as the nominating committee comprises business tycoons and other pro-Beijing representatives, there is no doubt that the next chief executive is someone who is loyal to the central government.
In order to secure the Legislative Council’s approval for the electoral reform package, the government will try hard to persuade the “neutral” legislators as well as those who are not so concerned about the issue to support it.
And while those who oppose the government package remain solid and strong at 40 percent of the entire legislative body, support for the Beijing proposal has been gaining ground since the end of the Occupy campaign. That’s why the government is determined to push the electoral reform proposal.
At the same time, the government admits that Beijing’s proposal has divided society, and it takes time for the wounds to heal.
In the final paragraph of the government consultation document, it said: “It is also a challenge for the entire Hong Kong as to whether we can restore our community which is divided and full of quarrels, back to a community with political morals and culture which seeks to build common ground whilst respecting differences, and which is rational and inclusive; and at the same time maintains mutual trust between central and Hong Kong authorities under the One Country, Two Systems principle.”
Against this backdrop, the government must first try to heal the wounds and narrow the divide before pushing forward a highly controversial package. And the best way to do this is through a referendum.
It’s time for the government to play the key role in bridging the gap between the pro-Beijing camp and the pro-democracy groups.
A poll would offer the best forum for all stakeholders in society to express their views on electoral reform, and the government should respect the results of the poll, even if more than half of the votes oppose Beijing’s plan.
If that happens, the government has the responsibility to convince Beijing to amend or scrap it.
And for pro-democracy camp, they must also follow the results of the poll in deciding whether to vote for or against the reform package in the Legislative Council.
This could be the last chance for the government to hear the true voice of the people regarding the highly controversial issue. Is the government ready to take the challenge?
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