27 October 2016
The pan-democratic bloc retained its critical minority status in the last Legco election, held in 2012. Photo: Epoch Times
The pan-democratic bloc retained its critical minority status in the last Legco election, held in 2012. Photo: Epoch Times

How 2016 Legco election can mean universal suffrage

Does that headline sound too whimsical?

Read on. I hope today’s column will offer a constructive action plan for parties and candidates looking to contend in the Legislative Council election next year.

It may also provide a new perspective for voters.

As before, democratic parties will coordinate their strategies and candidates to avoid lending the other side an extra advantage.

Still, they do not have a common master who can arrange and mobilize all their resources, the role Beijing plays for the pro-establishment camp.

One emerging factor is that younger, first-time voters, who were at the forefront of last year’s Occupy movement, are not necessarily loyal to the old-line democrats.

As a result, the pan-democratic camp’s odds of securing the majority of seats in the geographical constituencies remain uncertain.

Also, we have seen new groups and alliances – many with a pro-democratic stance – formed by professionals who want a more proactive role in politics, but whether they can challenge the monopoly of Beijing-friendly parties in the functional constituencies remains to be seen.

Given the harsh reality, my advice is that leading parties like the Democratic Party, Civic Party and Labor Party should try to think outside the box for the Legco election.

Why can’t the camp as a whole, representing more than a million voters, assume a more proactive role in governance when the next chief executive can only be chosen by a small circle of 1,200 election committee members?

Just imagine the immense pressure the government would face if a policy — such as scrapping the offsetting of severance and long service payment with MPF benefits — became part of a common Legco election manifesto for the entire democratic bloc.

You might say the government could just shrug it off, but democratic parties and lawmakers have bargaining power.

They can threaten to use numerous forms of “non-cooperation” to stall bills tabled by the government, so as to force it to respond to their demands.

One more thing to be clear about is that, on many livelihood issues, the government may have fewer allies than one might think: pro-establishment lawmakers are not duty-bound to give their unconditional support.

A joint manifesto could give democrats a more concrete role in governance.

Even former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has called for a “constructive opposition camp” in the wake of the defeat of the electoral reform bill.

What has been holding the government back from delivering on some chronic economic and livelihood issues is its lack of teeth to challenge Hong Kong’s privileged few and other vested interests.

If Beijing believes that, with its “one person, one vote” formula, the next chief executive can command the mandate to break through the fetters put up by the tycoons and their cronies, then by the same token, the government has no reason to ignore the demands of these lawmakers (also chosen through “one person, one vote”), as well as the voice of those who voted for them.

Simply put, the Legco election can be seen as de facto universal suffrage that decides how Hong Kong should be governed.

The Democratic Party and the Civic Party have fielded candidates – albeit also-rans — in the past chief executive elections, but each party put forward a separate manifesto.

Now I urge them to discuss with fellow democrats from the Labor Party as well as youths from the Umbrella movement the drafting of a common election platform, a document based on their shared political and livelihood-related demands.

As far as politics is concerned, the common plank of policies can include a request for the relaunch of constitutional reform, while leaving the door open to all proposals, including civil nomination.

Substantial flexibility must be guaranteed, too.

For instance, when pressing the authorities to abolish the onerous offsetting arrangement for MPF benefits, the manifesto can avoid aspects that have yet to be settled, like whether a transition period is needed.

The election platform must also be specific — preferably with a raft of detailed policy recommendations to the government — so as to serve as a solemn pledge of the democratic camp to convince voters, and restore the faith of its supporters, that those elected will try their best to push and monitor the government.

It is believed that voter turnout will set a new high in next year’s election, and the votes for the pan-democrats may exceed 1.2 million — 1,000 times the number of Hongkongers who can choose the next chief executive.

So, it would be naïve to think the next administration can afford to ignore these voters and their sentiments and continue with the cold-shoulder policy toward democrats in Legco, merely with backing from its own allies.

Some may wonder about the possibility of a manifesto from the pro-establishment side.

The chances are slim, as even though they are all loyal to Beijing, the business sector and labor groups have conflicting interests to defend, and their mainland bosses, insisting on an executive-led hierarchy, won’t allow such an approach.

So there’s no need to worry that they may steal the spotlight.

Beijing and the Hong Kong government will undoubtedly marshal core supporters for split-voting campaigns to divide candidates from the opposition camp and beat them one by one.

Voters have been let down by incapable democrats trapped by division and manipulated by radicals.

Now the democrats need a fresh mindset — to regard themselves as part of the policymaking and implementation process.

A common manifesto will be testimony that they will hold fast to their pledges if elected.

It will also be a way to let Hongkongers decide their city’s future.

Let our “small circle” chief executive feel the pulse of the people.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 8.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Observers believe that in the next Legco election there will be a new high in voter turnout, in the wake of the Occupy movement and the defeat of the electoral reform bill. Photo: Ta Kung Pao

Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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