25 October 2016
If Beijing commits to improve the political reform package for the 2022 election, what would be the response of the pan-democrats? Photo: HKEJ
If Beijing commits to improve the political reform package for the 2022 election, what would be the response of the pan-democrats? Photo: HKEJ

A deal is still possible in Shenzhen meeting

The latest public opinion poll shows that two in every five Hong Kong people oppose the Beijing-endorsed political reform package for the 2017 chief executive election.

That offers a solid support for the 15 pan-democrat lawmakers who are set to travel to Shenzhen for a showdown with Beijing officials on the issue this Sunday.

Although some of the pan-democrats need to organize the annual June 4 demonstration on the same day, so far 15 are going to attend the meeting with Wang Guangya, head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office; Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee Deputy Secretary-General and chairman of the Basic Law Committee; and Zhang Xiaoming, head of the Liaison Office of the central government in Hong Kong.

The encounter could be the last formal meeting between the pan-democrats and Beijing officials before the reform package is put forward to the Legislative Council for approval.

Ahead of the meeting, the latest survey conducted by the School of Journalism and Communications of the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows that the net support rate for the Beijing-endorsed electoral reform package is only 2.1 percent, the lowest among surveys of its kind. The poll, which interviewed 1,041 respondents aged 15 or above, shows that 45 percent supports the proposal while 42.9 percent opposes it.

Meanwhile, the Joint Universities Rolling Survey on the election bill shows similar results. The rate of those opposed to the proposal is in the range of 34 to 41 percent, while the support rate is between 42 and 49 percent.

Both polls indicate that the government bill has failed to gain the support of more than half of the Hong Kong people, while public opposition is quite stable, with more than a third of the respondents opposing it.

While pro-Beijing politicians have been urging the democrats to change their stance and support the bill so that Hong Kong people can exercise “one person, one vote” to choose their next leader, the latest polls show that the opposition stands on firm ground to veto the package.

In the Shenzhen meeting, the pan-democrats can tell the central authorities that what half of the Hong Kong people want is a transparent, fair and open electoral framework, not a fake universal suffrage that still makes use of a small-circle committee to pre-select the candidates.

The pan-democrats should present a unified stand during the encounter, explain to the top officials that the government proposal simply won’t do for genuine universal suffrage, and tell them that they have to trust Hong Kong people and believe that they won’t elect someone who will hurt the city’s relationship with Beijing.

The lawmakers should also avoid meeting with the officials separately so as not to arouse suspicions that they are making under-the-table deals.

In fact, many are still wondering why Beijing has scheduled a meeting at this time, especially when both sides appear to have no intention to step back from their respective positions.

Some quarters suggest that Beijing really fears that the government bill will be voted down in the legislature, while others speculate that Beijing could have another reform package which it may announce to win back the support of the silent majority who are opposed to the current plan.

Hong Kong people are realistic. They won’t accept any deal that violates their principles. But if the authorities pledge to improve on the political reform package in the next chief executive election in 2022, the support rate for the bill could climb to 60 percent.

Now, if Beijing throws a commitment to improve the electoral framework for 2022, what would the the response of the pan-democrats?

If, for example, Beijing agrees that the number of blank votes in the 2017 election will serve as a gauge of the people’s sentiment and will be taken into account in any decision about revising the electoral framework, or that the corporate votes in the nominating committee will be changed into directors’ votes, will such options trigger a split among the pan-democrats?

Any offer of compromise from Beijing could be a tough choice for the pan-democratic camp, especially for the Democratic Party, which has positioned itself as a milder group compared with its more radical peers.

The core consideration for the opposition is that the new initiatives should enable a certain level of public nomination to be incorporated into the process, which, after all, was the initial focus of the Umbrella Movement last year.

The open election of the nominating committee members could be the best option for the democrats to support under the National People’s Congress framework, as it grants Hong Kong people the right to constitute the 1,200 members who will nominate the chief executive candidates.

It will also do away with the “small circle” character of the Beijing-endorsed nomination process.

But such an option is highly unlikely. Beijing has linked electoral reform to national security, and as such, it should know the results even before the voters cast their ballots.

That’s the reason why Beijing needs to implement such a high entry barrier to prevent pan-democrats from qualifying as candidates. It is Beijing’s belief that pan-democrats could link up with external forces to overthrow the Communist Party regime.

But what the top officials can’t seem to understand is that most pan-democrats are patriotic; they always put China on top of Hong Kong, although they may not agree with Communist Party rule.

Most pan-democrats subscribe to the “one country” principle. Once the top officials understand that, the two sides will come closer to a meeting of minds.

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EJ Insight writer

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