South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Stephanie Cheung says the government must come clean about the real obstacles impeding democratic progress, and start by submitting a supplemental consultation report to Beijing
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has finally come out with the truth. His real reason for denying open nomination for chief executive candidates is because, he claims, more than half the Hong Kong electorate earns less than HK$14,000 a month, so voting would favour this sector.
If we look beyond the initial offensiveness of his statement, its honesty actually clears away all side issues, and helps Hong Kong to refocus on the real issues about implementing democracy in this city.
Leung needs to explain clearly the underlying causes for his objection. Only then, can we as a community, objectively and rationally explore how each cause may be addressed. For example, is his objection that the poor are not well educated, and lack independent thought? Or, that they are likely to be new immigrants unversed in the sophistications of Hong Kong democracy? Does he fear selfish human nature that will drive them to support politicians promising social handouts? Or does he think that, because they are of relatively low income, their votes can be easily bought? Maybe Leung is simply saying, “They are different from us. We don’t understand them. We don’t trust them”.
Some of these concerns may be addressed through better education, communication, and even setting residency thresholds. For others, we may need to work out possible options to minimise such feared ills.
Each of these, plus any other causes, is an important factor for Hong Kong to consider in its quest for democracy, and determining its pace of reform. They should not be concerns of the chief executive alone, but concerns of our society.
Their importance can be seen from Article 45 of the Basic Law, which says the method for selecting the chief executive shall be specified “in the light of the actual situation in the HKSAR…” The 2004 National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision also specifies that any change relating to the methods of election shall conform to certain principles, including “being compatible with the social, economic, political development of Hong Kong”.
Leung has not disclosed his concerns. The public’s attention was not drawn to them in the consultation on the election of the chief executive and the Legislative Council. In fact, the consultation document of December 2013 painted the “actual situation” in the SAR as: “Our per capita gross domestic product in 2012 already exceeded US$36,500. The level of economic development in Hong Kong ranks among the highest in the world… There is a high degree of social mobility…”
The fact that over half of Hong Kong actually earns only US$1,800 or less per month puts the above description into proper perspective. The consultation results are unreliable for their failure to take this into account. Leung’s report to the Standing Committee did not correct this.
The framework laid down on August 31 by the Standing Committee based upon this consultation report is accordingly flawed. Furthermore, the framework was premised upon “a broad consensus” having been reached in Hong Kong. The “umbrella movement” shows no such broad consensus existed.
So what should the government do? Annul Leung’s report? Defend it, and pretend all is well? A workable solution would be for the government to carry out a supplemental consultation on democratic reform, this time disclosing Leung’s real concerns. Hong Kong could then have more comprehensive and in-depth discussions, and a better collation of views may be presented to the NPC, updating it on recent developments. How the NPC reacts to the supplemental report will not be something for which the Hong Kong government should be held responsible.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor astutely offered during the talks with student leaders to set up a multiparty platform for further discussions on reform. The government need only go one step further to make such discussions into a proper consultation, culminating in a proper report.
The offer to submit a report to the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office to “reflect what had happened in Hong Kong” will not be a good substitute. Leung’s report was submitted to the NPC . The supplemental report should be submitted to the same body. Further, it should not be just a report giving an account of events, but a report on viewpoints.
Carrying out such a supplemental consultation does not clash with the five-step process laid down in the 2004 Standing Committee interpretation. The initiative lies in the hands of the Hong Kong government. The NPC would not lose face by allowing it to happen, and it would have a chance to hear exactly what Hong Kong people have to say, and have an opportunity of reviewing its framework, if need be.
This is a win-win-win-win solution for the Hong Kong government, the central authorities, the protesters, and other Hong Kong citizens. What it requires is a degree of flexibility, commitment and sincerity from our officials to put democratic reforms back on the right footing.
One can squeeze one’s foot into a shoe which does not fit, but the longer one tries to walk in it, the greater the pain. The consultation itself was pushed through by the government against strong public objections. It was a shoe that never fitted. To continue to limp forward in it merely prolongs the pain, and develops blisters which will require treatment later on.
The government has been treating the constitutional reform process as a poker game, playing its cards close to its chest, and treating the Hong Kong public as its opponent. Carrying out a supplemental consultation would enable it to cross over to the same side and work hand in hand with protesters and society at large, to think deeper, more creatively and constructively, and consult with mutual respect on issues which are, after all, of common interest to all of us in Hong Kong.
With the commitment to do a supplemental consultation, the government would gain back moral leadership over Hong Kong. This is the right thing to do. The government would set the bar for responsibility, wisdom and professionalism that all can follow.
Stephanie Cheung participated in the student movements in the 1970s, and is currently a solicitor and mediator, and volunteer in youth work and education