21 October 2018
Pan-democratic lawmakers reiterated this month that they will vote down the election bill to be submitted by the Hong Kong government in a few months. Photo: RTHK
Pan-democratic lawmakers reiterated this month that they will vote down the election bill to be submitted by the Hong Kong government in a few months. Photo: RTHK

Why unity among democrats is important

“One person, one vote is not democracy.”

This was the comment in the past from people high up in the political hierarchy when they denounced pan-democrats’ calls for universal suffrage.

But since Beijing handed down its sham offer of a free vote and pan-democratic lawmakers vowed to veto the bill, these people have changed their tune. Now they say: “It’s one person, one vote; so it’s universal suffrage”.

One can only marvel at these top officials’ ability to twist their words and talk sheer nonsense.

Some have racked their brains over various nomination and election methods that conform to the Chinese legislature’s framework and also maximize genuine elements of a free vote at the same time.

Their efforts have helped create seemingly accommodating atmosphere for discussion. Pan-democratic lawmakers may have just played into Beijing’s hand as cracks appear in the camp’s unity when debating different plans.

The best solution is simple: no more humming and hawing but a straightforward veto. Democrats should make better use of their efforts and brainpower for district and community programs to reach out to schools, media organizations and industrial and social groups and associations.

Genuine democracy is just too distant for the time being and we would rather divert resources into more specific initiatives than fighting a war that we cannot win.

Now, what are these more concrete tasks we should focus on?

Aspects that we have long neglected but will pay back if we attach enough significance, like joining hands with members of the local academia to scrap university ordinance and other rules inherited from the colonial times which have become a convenient tool to the government to pull the strings of local institutions.

Forget about e-referendum or actions like legislators (like Democratic Party’s Albert Ho Chun-Yan) resigning to trigger by-elections as a de facto referendum to gauge public opinions.

It’s naïve to think that Beijing will budge on the issue and even withdraw its retrogressive ruling simply because the majority of people refuse to accept a fake vote.

In the pursuit of democracy, there are times when we take the offensive and there are times we ought to play defense.

Our fight culminated in last year’s Occupy movement but we have to admit that the disparity in strength and resources is apparent, and now it’s time to be more pragmatic to concentrate on safeguarding what we still have.

In fact, it’s easier to unite all democrats across a wide spectrum when we focus on defense.

The joint reiteration by 27 pan-democratic lawmakers that they would veto the election bill is a good start as members from non-mainstream groups, or the so-called “democratic radicals”, have also appeared on the same stage with their comrades in arms. I believe different groups within the pan-democratic camp have restored cohesion after last year’s Occupy protests.

Then the usually unfounded charges and associations among groups within the camp must be brought to an end.

When all democrats can set aside their disagreements and bury the hatchet for a common course at a crucial moment, I see reason for optimism.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 16.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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