25 October 2016
Supporters would like the Democratic Party to stand firm in the fight for genuine universal suffrage. Photo: HKEJ
Supporters would like the Democratic Party to stand firm in the fight for genuine universal suffrage. Photo: HKEJ

Why is the government seeking 14 votes from pan-democrats?

Now why would the government want to secure 14 votes from the pan-democrats?

Citing an unnamed source from the administration of Leung Chun-ying, RTHK reported on Monday that the government is aiming to lure 13 to 14 members of the pan-democratic camp in the Legislative Council to support its political reform package for the 2017 chief executive election.

Regardless of how it is going to go about realizing this massive poaching, the revelation is quite intriguing. 

First of all, the target is much bigger than the number of votes it actually needs from the pan-democrats to secure the approval of the proposal, which is expected to be announced as early as next Wednesday.

Assuming that it has the backing of the entire pro-establishment camp in Legco in the bag, the government will only need four more votes to gather the required two-thirds support — or 47 yes votes — for the proposal. So why 14?

Is it part of its strategy to convince opposition lawmakers that there are so many of them who are inclined to support the electoral package? That if one legislator refuses to switch sides, there are still many of them who can be persuaded to approve the proposal? 

Or is it aiming for a landslide win to humiliate not just the pan-democrat leaders but the entire pro-democracy movement by showing to all and sundry that the establishment has the overwhelming support of the people and its representatives to push through with its “one man, one vote” mechanism?

On the same day that the revelation came out, 23 pro-democracy lawmakers from different political parties signed a pledge that they will vote against the government proposal if it is based on what the National People’s Congress Standing Committee announced on August 31 last year, if it prevents the civic nomination of chief executive candidates, and limits the nominating right to a 1,200-member committee whose members mainly come from the rich and pro-Beijing camp.

This is well and good as a sign of their commitment to genuine universal suffrage, except that this is the third time that pan-democrats have signed such a pledge to show their solidarity in rejecting the Beijing-dictated proposal.

Until now, the government has yet to announce its final proposal, but it would hardly surprise anyone if the government sticks with Beijing’s plan to strictly limit the right to nominate candidates to their loyalists. That means that all those people who took to the streets last year failed to achieve their goal of securing the right of the public to nominate their own candidates.

Recent public opinion surveys show that the those supporting and opposing the government’s electoral reform package are about 40 percent each, which implies that the government has so far failed to convince more than half of the people to support its proposal.

Against this backdrop, it could be quite difficult for democrats to change their stance at the final stage of the debate and vote in favor of the government package.

And if the democrats have been committed to the public that they will oppose the proposal, why would they still need to attach their signatures to a piece of document several times to signify their stance.

In fact, these repeated pledges of commitment to genuine universal suffrage only show their lack of trust in each other, that as the days pass, doubts and suspicions are creeping into their ranks, that they fear some of their colleagues could switch sides at the last minute.

Meanwhile, the government is biding its time. It continues to watch the disagreements within the ranks of the opposition. It seems sure that it is only a matter of time before 13 to 14 members of the pan-democratic camp will betray their comrades and support the government proposal, thereby spitting on the pledges of commitment to democracy that they had signed.

If that happens, it would be the biggest defeat of the pan-democratic camp even before the actual CE election is held.

The public is closely watching the developments in the opposition camp, looking for signs on who are likely to turn Judas and betray the cause of democracy.

Political pundits are quite sure that the government’s main target is the Democratic Party, which has six seats in Legco. Compared with the other pro-democracy organizations, the party had adopted a relatively mild approach during the 79-day Occupy campaign.

Democratic Party leaders continue to oppose the government’s political reform plan publicly as that is what their supporters expect them to do.

But they also appear to be paving the way for a shift from a tough, uncompromising stance to a softer, accommodating approach in dealing with the issue.

They seem to want to play the role of a balancing force between the pan-democrats and the government, or at least to put themselves on a higher ground in the discussion of the issue.

Rumors have it that mainland operators are trying to convince party veterans to approve the package by appealing to their “patriotism” and “love for China”, by promising them that they would gain Beijing’s favor and praise if they change their stance.

Senior government officials including Commerce Secretary Greg So recently attended an online radio show hosted by Emily Lau, the party’s chairwoman. Nothing wrong with that.

Opposition leaders and government officials must always keep their lines of communication open and hold frequent discussions on major issues.

But pro-democracy supporters would like their leaders to stand firm in front of Beijing and Hong Kong officials, and fight for genuine universal suffrage, rather than compromise and approve an anemic version of political reform for the 2017 elections.

The Hong Kong government believes the Democratic Party is in a unique position in local political spectrum, and wishes it could convince democrats from other parties to switch support in favor of the government.

The party has been labeled as a “pro-government opposition party” after it changed its stance and supported the 2011 electoral reform package, drawing the ire of some pro-democracy supporters.

Would the Democratic Party betray its loyal supporters once again and support the government proposal for the 2017 election for its own political interest?

Hong Kong people need to keep a close watch on the party leaders.

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EJ Insight writer

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