19 October 2018
Could Alan Leong (inset, left) and Leung Chun-ying face off on TV like Donald Tsang and Audrey Eu did in 2010? Photos: Apple Daily, Bloomberg, HKEJ
Could Alan Leong (inset, left) and Leung Chun-ying face off on TV like Donald Tsang and Audrey Eu did in 2010? Photos: Apple Daily, Bloomberg, HKEJ

Why the government is avoiding a TV debate on political reform

The Hong Kong government is failing to win the trust and support of the public for Beijing’s electoral reform proposal for the election of the chief executive in 2017.

Officials are trying their best to eliminate any direct challenges from the public and stepping up the advertising campaign on mass media to brainwash Hongkongers into believing that Beijing’s distorted concept of “one person, one vote” for pre-selected candidates is true democracy.

Now that the second round of public consultations on the reform package has ended this month, the government is expected to unveil its final proposal to the Legislative Council soon.

Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit has challenged Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to a televised debate on political reform, the latest attempt from the pan-democrats to force government officials to face the public directly to explain why voting for candidates handpicked by Beijing qualifies as universal suffrage.

Even a pro-establishment legal expert, Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee of the University of Hong Kong, urged the government to commission an independent third party, such as a former judge, to carry out a public opinion poll on the reform package.

Chen also suggested a televised debate to allow the public to decide whether to support the package.

Should the debate come to pass, this would be the second time the pan-democrats and Hong Kong’s chief executive discussed political reform in front of a TV audience of millions.

In 2010, then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen invited the Civic Party’s then leader, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, to a televised debate, and it turned out that the public preferred Eu’s performance in the debate to Tsang’s.

Why are the pan-democrats insisting on having a televised debate on the constitutional reform package?

Government ads in newspapers, on TV, radio and even public transport have Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung pushing Beijing-style universal suffrage in the 2017 election.

While the government may insist that the election should follow the framework the National People’s Congress Standing Committee handed down on August 31, it need not equate the electoral arrangements with universal suffrage.

Hongkongers can think independently and understand Beijing’s role in political reform, so the Hong Kong government can just tell them that Beijing will keep control of the nominating process, and that’s it.

A televised debate can help clarify for the people of Hong Kong the details of Beijing’s proposal.

Pan-democrats know the huge impact of a televised debate on the public, so they are pushing for it.

However, the government knows it could be an uphill battle trying to convince the public to accept a counterfeit universal suffrage.

That could be the reason why Tam refused Leong’s challenge and said he regretted arranging the televised debate five years ago for Tsang, his boss at the time.

Tam also insisted Beijing’s reform package has won the support of more than half of the people of Hong Kong.

Different research firms have been tracking public opinion on political reform in the past few months.

In the latest survey, conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 40 percent of the respondents supported Beijing’s proposal, while 47 percent opposed it.

However, the government and the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said that in their surveys more than half of the respondents supported the proposal.

The city is divided, and the gap has been widening.

That’s why academics have suggested carrying out a large public survey to gain a better understanding of public opinion, as different polls could have blind spots or biased samples.

Of course, the government won’t accept the suggestion, since it can control its own survey, even if it lacks credibility.

For pan-democrats, the best thing would be a citywide poll, but as Beijing has excluded the possibility of any referendum, that would not be an option.

The deadlock may not be solved until lawmakers vote against the reform package.

Whether that may open the door for the authorities to consider another option, only time will tell.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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