South China Morning Post
Hong Kong needs to address the question of political reform if it is to regain momentum to deliver a popularly elected chief executive in 2017
My disappointment with the August 31 decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress stems from my fear that Hong Kong might have lost the chance of electing a chief executive through universal suffrage in 2017.
Hong Kong needs political reform to address two critical problems.
The first relates to the deep economic and social contradictions that have arisen here from economic globalisation and China’s opening. Coherent and sustainable policies are needed to deal with these contradictions. Without political reform, there is a danger that future government policies could compromise the core values Hong Kong has depended on for its past successes.
The second problem relates to the political gridlock and open confrontation on the streets and in the legislature, which is preventing government from taking effective policy actions and compromises its ability to govern well. Incessant political struggle in the legislature is leading to stagnancy and at best a mixed bag of disparate policies approved by chance or contrivance.
Only when the head of government is accountable to the broad electorate will there be any hope that the gridlock can be broken. Only a popularly elected chief executive will have any real chance of uniting people and putting a halt to polarisation.
Waiting for 2022 or 2027 will be disastrous for Hong Kong and even more time will be lost. Reaching an agreement on the chief executive election would be a significant accomplishment because it would reflect agreement on not just an isolated issue, but also an understanding on how to take forward political reform.
I believe there is plenty of room for introducing a more democratic political arrangement even after the August 31 decision. The reformation of the legislature has hardly started.
The composition of the nominating committee for the chief executive (other than the “four sectors”) and how their members are to be formed has not been touched on. There are many details still to be worked out on the design of both the nomination process and the election process. The empty spaces that need filling are large enough to make Hong Kong as democratic as the United States and Britain.
The demands of the opposition to allow public nomination of the chief executive and abolish functional constituencies in the legislature are the opening bids of a radical agenda that does not necessarily command majority support even within the opposition coalition. To date, these demands have been rejected on legal grounds and not been given a political counter-argument.
But how can the negotiations move forward when trust is lacking?
A third-party platform is needed to foster such trust among the different parties. The government should appoint a commission composed of individuals of high standing, who command a high degree of legitimacy, to submit a recommendation to the government on the future of political reform.
This commission’s report should incorporate a broad spectrum of the public’s political aspirations, but in compliance with the constitutional requirements. Its recommendations should be made public. The commission’s work should precede the next stage of the “five-step” process of Hong Kong’s political reform.
The work of the commission would not be easy, but it would have the advantage of commanding the trust not only of the government and opposition, but also the central government.
Prolonged occupation of the streets is an affront to the rule of law. The occupiers have said they intend to surrender themselves to the law to take personal responsibility for their actions. This is laudable, but the real goal should be to win the hearts and minds of the people, not to defend public streets. Hong Kong does not need political confrontation to advance towards democracy, nor does mainland China. Memories of the Cultural Revolution should be put to rest.
Yet political struggle is evident here. Hong Kong should resist letting this struggle rule our political future. The development of democracy must be advanced through accommodation and consensus building, and not be dominated by the radical tendencies of the pan-democratic movement.
The Hong Kong government has a primary responsibility for completing the “five-step” process and bringing it to a resounding success for the benefit of the people of Hong Kong and for the central government.
Richard Wong Yue-chim is Philip Wong Kennedy Wong Professor in Political Economy at the University of Hong Kong.