South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Surya Deva says for the sake of all Hongkongers, the pan-democrats and local government should both come out of their corners and seek solutions within Beijing’s framework to end the democracy impasse
The democracy road in Hong Kong seems to have reached a dead end, at least for now. Both the local government and pan-democrats are sticking to their stands and making no serious effort to remove the road blocks.
The pan-democrats have pushed for unrealistic demands such as civic nomination and have unnecessarily antagonised Beijing with their statements. On the other hand, the chief executive, who has a constitutional obligation to accomplish the goal of universal suffrage in Hong Kong, has mostly taken steps to achieve the exact opposite result. More than anyone else, it is Leung Chun-ying’s task to come up with a package that at least two-thirds of the Legislative Council members are willing to accept. Rather than doing so, he has led from the front in alienating pan-democrats. The most recent instance was to order government ministers and senior officials to boycott the Democratic Party’s 20th anniversary dinner.
Proposals floated by influential academics have not been able to break the impasse, either. Consider, for example, the “none-of-the-above” voting option proposed by Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, a member of the Basic Law Committee. Under his proposal, the election of the chief executive would be invalid if the “non-of the-above” votes exceeded 50 per cent of the total number polled. This proposal has not received an encouraging response, perhaps because it only offers a false sense of choice, for it is highly unlikely that more than half the voters would choose an “unknown and invisible” target on a negative platform.
Although the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s August 31 decision is highly problematic, let us assume for now that it is sacrosanct. What could the government and pan-democrats do within this framework?
Rather than giving vague assurances that further reforms could be made to the framework after the 2017 election, Leung should formally approach the Standing Committee to provide a written road map for long-term democratic reforms. The current lack of trust over Beijing’s intent is discouraging both legislators and Hongkongers from accepting the caged election model. More clarity about the future of functional constituencies in Legco would also help to remove suspicion about Beijing’s real future intentions.
Alternatively, Leung could work on creating a mechanism under which at least one pan-democrat candidate is put forward by the nominating committee under Article 45. In fact, if the central authorities are clever, they should allow two pan-democrat candidates into the fray so that a pro-establishment candidate has a higher chance of winning the election. Beijing should have no fear: Hongkongers are unlikely to elect an “unpatriotic”, “radical” or “confrontational” chief executive; anyway, in such an unlikely scenario, it could exercise its veto power.
But if the “real” fear is that a substantial majority of Hongkongers do not “love the country” enough, then it is a more serious problem that could only be solved if the central authorities and the local government take genuine measures to win the trust of local people. They should not, for instance, take steps that disturb the local “way of life” and distinct cultural identity.
As far as the pan-democrat legislators are concerned, they should go back to the people and connect with their social problems – from unaffordable housing, endemic delays in access to health care and inadequate social security for the elderly, to environmental pollution, overcrowded public facilities, and discrimination against those with different sexual orientations.
Merely criticising the undemocratic nature of the Standing Committee framework, and vowing to veto it, is not enough. Rather, they should highlight how a lack of decisive governance is contributing to our socio-economic problems and develop concrete alternatives to resolve them. To fulfil this role, electing a “shadow” chief executive and ministers may be an option worth exploring if the formal election process does not offer any space.
Supporters of the “umbrella movement” could, on the other hand, learn from the recent sweeping victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (or Common People’s Party) in the New Delhi elections. The success of the party, which has its origins in the anti-corruption movement, shows how crucial it is to convert a social movement into a political force to make a long-lasting impact.
The real value of democracy lies in offering all sections of society an opportunity to have a voice in decisions affecting them. Periodic elections based on the principle of equal participation merely try to put this idea into operation. However, if Hong Kong cannot yet have open elections, alternative informal means and institutions should be utilised to engage and empower the people in an inclusive manner to address society’s problems.
Both the local government and pan-democrats have paid far too little attention to this aspect. How long will they remain in their own bunkers? For the sake of the people, it’s time to come out.
Surya Deva, an associate professor at City University’s School of Law, specialises in business and human rights, and comparative constitutional law