27 October 2016
The government's "Make it happen" campaign appears to have backfired. Photo: HKEJ
The government's "Make it happen" campaign appears to have backfired. Photo: HKEJ

It’s time for government to shut up on political reform

There is less than a week to go before the government submits its political reform bill to lawmakers for deliberation and approval.

But it is now realizing that the more it explains the mechanics of the proposal, the less people are convinced to accept it.

On Wednesday, a rolling survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University showed that the number of people supporting the government’s reform package is just about the same as those who are opposed.

Previous polls since the government unveiled its blueprint for the 2017 chief executive election in April had always put the percentage of those backing the proposal in the lead.

In the latest survey, in which more than 1,100 people were interviewed, 42.8 percent of the respondents said they want the Legislative Council to pass the legislation, while 42.8 percent don’t. The net support rate for the government is zero. 

What could have gone wrong? Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen could not be accused of not trying hard enough.

In fact, the three leaders of the “Make it happen” campaign have been spending countless hours visiting various districts, organizing town meetings and riding on an open-top bus to promote the political reform package.

But their efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people have only succeeded in showing that their proposal is no different from the framework set by Beijing in August last year.

By arguing that Hong Kong should “pocket it first” as it would pave the way for a better arrangement in the future, they are telling the people that the government of Leung Chun-ying could not disobey or change what the central authorities have imposed.

Understandably, pro-establishment politicians are questioning the credibility of the survey results. They say the growing number of supporters to their signature campaign is more reflective of the true sentiments of the Hong Kong people.

However, some independent political observers believe that the net support rate for the electoral reform plan could continue to decline as more people realize the connection between the government proposal and Beijing’s designs for Hong Kong.

Chinese officials have said that the fate of the political reform bill will serve as a benchmark of Hong Kong people’s patriotism.

But that’s exactly the point. Hong Kong people don’t want Beijing meddling too much in the city’s internal affairs. They also want to keep the uniqueness of Hong Kong amid the central government’s relentless efforts to integrate the city into the mainland. 

They want a genuine implementation of the “one country, two systems” policy, which means allowing Hong Kong to select its own leaders and seek its own destiny.

While the government is urging Hong Kong people to “pocket it first” so they can directly participate in the election of their leader, a growing number of them want an electoral system that offers a level playing field for all candidates as well as the chance to nominate the candidates of their choice.

All these initiatives have nothing to do with patriotism, or whether Hong Kong people love China. They simply want to have an open, transparent and fair election.

The government seems to be running out of strategy to win back public support for the electoral reform package.

On Thursday, Rimsky Yuen said in a newspaper interview that the election framework can be improved in the future after the legislature approves the current package.

He said once the bill is passed, Hong Kong can introduce more democratic elements into the composition of the nomination committee, the number of candidates as well as threshold for qualification as a candidate.

However, Yuen also clarified that such reforms should not be considered as the commitment of Beijing authorities.

In fact, Beijing officials told Legco members in a recent meeting in Shenzhen that there must be no change to the electoral reform framework announced by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on August 31 last year, and that such a framework will be effective in all chief executive elections in the future.

Yuen’s pledge, therefore, is contrary to what the central authorities want.

The most likely explanation for this is that the CY Leung administration only wants to give Hong Kong people some hope that genuine universal suffrage is still a possibility in the future.

The government simply wants the people to accept the current proposal, and it will resort to promises, lies and threats to make it happen.

But what the “Make it happen” campaign has done is to open the eyes of the people to the true provisions of the political reform bill.

More and more people are realizing that it is no different from the current “small circle” election system, the only difference being that people can now directly vote for the candidates pre-selected by Beijing.

Perhaps it’s time for the government to just shut up, present the bill to Legco and wait for its vote. 

After all, elected representatives of the people should know the true sentiments of their constituents, and vote accordingly.

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EJ Insight writer

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