Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Urgent need to begin discussion on the details of electoral reform in Hong Kong

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South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Sonny Lo

Sonny Lo says both officials and protesters must act to break deadlock

The stalemate between the Occupy movement and the Hong Kong and Beijing governments does not bode well. To break the impasse, all sides will need to act.

First, Beijing may have to push the SAR government to come up with a concrete political reform consultation document. This should include several aspects: the method for democratising the composition of the nominating committee (including, for example, a change from some corporate voters to a wider franchise); the relaxation of the criteria, thus allowing pan-democratic candidates to enter the first round of nomination; and the technical details of how the final two to three candidates would be chosen to contest the election through universal suffrage.

Without such details, any possible dialogue between student leaders and pan-democrats on the one hand and the government on the other will be fruitless.

The Hong Kong government will have to put forward the consultation document as soon as possible, together with an announcement that a public opinion assessment office will be set up to collect views on a reform model. This would necessitate the appointment of a director who can command trust and respect in society, and who would lead a team of pollsters conducting opinion surveys in an authoritative and independent manner.

The Hong Kong government should also consider an appropriate response to the democrats’ demands about the development of the Legislative Council.

It can use the consultation document to deal with legislative reform in at least two aspects: establishing a consultative committee on Legco reforms as soon as possible, and a promise to consider introducing a bicameral legislature.

This should comprise a lower house composed of all directly elected seats and an upper house that includes functional constituency seats and also possibly members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress. A bicameral legislature would be a possible way out of the impasse amid pan-democrats’ demand to abolish functional constituencies in Legco.

Student leaders will have to moderate their demands as well, and be far more realistic. Instead of harping on the unrealistic request for the NPC Standing Committee to change its August 31 decision, they should get involved in discussion of the details of such reforms. “Institutional design” should be the motto of student leaders, rather than using slogans and claims that are politically unacceptable to Beijing.

Next, democrats should seek to persuade protesters in the three occupied zones – Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay – to withdraw to parks and areas that will not constitute illegal occupation. This, alongside the government’s move to accelerate the publication of a consultative document on political reform models, would hopefully foster a political atmosphere of trust.

Finally, the chief executive could consider dissolving Legco, in accordance with Article 50 of the Basic Law, which states that he can do so if the legislature does not pass “important bills”. Given that executive-legislative confrontations of the recent past do not bode well for constructive dialogue between pan-democrats and the government, the chief executive could take the opportunity to call for a new round of elections that would usher in a new legislature.

This may in fact strengthen the government’s hand: if fewer pan-democrat politicians were re-elected, the new legislature could well pass the government’s proposed electoral reform model – a solution that would settle the ongoing dispute peacefully.

Sonny Lo is professor and head of the department of social sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education

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