20 January 2019
Pan-democrats display a replica of a declaration by five lawmakers to vote against the proposed election reform package. Photo: HKEJ
Pan-democrats display a replica of a declaration by five lawmakers to vote against the proposed election reform package. Photo: HKEJ

Election reform: Here’s a smarter play for the govt

It’s no secret that the Hong Kong government and the pro-Beijing camp are betting that some pro-democracy lawmakers will change their minds at the last minute and vote for the proposed framework for the 2017 chief executive election.

We cannot know how determined they are to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal but we can tell from what we have seen.

Since January, the government has been telling us that some pan-democrat lawmakers are leaning toward the proposal and will change their minds if more than half of the public supports it.

At the same time, officials have been using that argument — in reverse — on the pan-democrats, telling them public opinion is turning in their favor.

It’s a classic case of one side preempting the other to achieve the desired result for a third party.

And this week, some “authoritative sources” in Beijing did their part to bolster the case for the Hong Kong government by saying Leung Chun-ying is likely to win another five-year term if the proposal is rejected by Legco.

That’s because the election framework will revert to the same method under which he was elected in 2012 through a 1,200-member committee.

Suddenly, we have a choice between two evil.

Beijing knows Leung is unpopular and Hong Kong people would have none of him as much as they would have nothing to do with its election scheme that allows it to pre-screen candidates.

In fact, we have no idea who these “authoritative sources” are but the fact that they have been cited by state media and by Beijing-friendly newspapers makes it likely we will be hearing about them for the foreseeable future.

It’s easy to play this kind of game but it’s not clever. 

The public won’t stand for it. The pan-democrats won’t fall for it.

On Monday, several lawmakers put their commitment to paper by signing a pledge to vote against the bill.

With their written declaration, Ronny Tong, Charles Mok, Kenneth Leung, Frederick Fung and Wong Yuk-man, who have been targeted by the government as potential turncoats, sealed a compact with the public.

What that means is that the standoff over the proposal remains as unyielding as it has been.

Does it matter? Not at all.

NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang on Monday reaffirmed the Chinese legislature’s stance on the matter, in effect saying there will be no compromise and no going back.

But that does not mean the Hong Kong government can’t ease its own position.

For instance, it could find a way to settle issues regarding blank and invalid votes. Also, it could make the nomination committee more representative and the voting more transparent.

Under the Basic Law, such concessions are not beyond the powers of the Hong Kong government even after the NPC has made its position clear.

That would be a smarter play than the one the government is engaged in at the moment. 

We shall see.

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EJ Insight writer

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