Chief Secretary Carrie Lam made two moves this week that made two things look official.
First, she said an election framework for the 2017 chief executive election won’t be ready this year.
Second, she directly addressed the issue of Hong Kong independence.
Lam’s admission that the government does not expect Legco to pass a Beijing-backed electoral reform bill this year is consistent with growing public awareness about the flawed proposal.
In a survey by the Concern Group for Public Opinion on Constitutional Development, 49.5 per cent of respondents said they want the proposal to pass.
It was the first time the figure was below 50 percent.
Meanwhile, 38 per cent said the Hong Kong government should withdraw the plan, unchanged from the previous survey.
Among pro-democracy supporters, 76.8 percent said it should be vetoed, up 10.3 percentage points.
No doubt these figures reflect a kind of civic awakening thanks to the 79-day street protests that highlighted Hong Kong’s aspirations for genuine democracy.
Where the protesters succeeded in spreading the message to the wider population, the government failed in making its own case with the public, especially with the youth who were front and center of the protests.
When a group of students met Lam on Monday, they heard the same tired, old refrain regarding Hong Kong’s political development.
Lam can’t be rehashing the official line and not sound like a broken record.
But she did say something new when she acknowledged, albeit subtly and perhaps for the first time, that public opinion is turning against the proposal.
A growing number of people who were inclined to go along with the government to “take it first” while improvements are made are now against it.
Separately, in a panel discussion on Saturday, Lau Kong-Wah, the lone government representative, was surprisingly quiet while dozens of participants took turns taking the reform proposal apart.
Some renewed calls for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to step down.
Interestingly, neither Lam nor Lau directly engaged the audience on the electoral reform issue in so many words.
But Lam took the time to challenge the students who shouted “Hong Kong independence” as tensions grew across the room.
Shocked by an angry outburst by some students, Lam warned that independence is not the best solution for Hong Kong.
It’s unlikely her warning will dampen an ongoing discussion about self-determination as a growing number of young people continue to express their frustrations with “one country, two systems”.
Meanwhile, the government is losing touch with them by the day with its failure to communicate, let alone hear their grievances.
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