South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
C.K. Yeung fears the frustration about political reform may boil over when the next chief executive election gets underway, unless we can start working towards compromise now
March 2017 looks set to be the coldest spring in Hong Kong’s history unless we can bring about a political climate change. That is the month when five million voters were supposed to elect the chief executive, had the political reform package not been voted down. Instead, many will hit the streets.
Without universal suffrage, we will do things the old way – election by the 1,200-member Election Committee. But it may not be quite that simple, as there is no way the 40-odd per cent of Hong Kong people who opposed reform will take it lying down.
One can easily picture the 2017 election scene. Every candidate and every step he or she takes along the electoral process will be dogged by protests, both vociferous and, quite likely, violent.
The last CE election took place at the Asia World Expo at Chek Lap Kok. Will the protesters occupy the airport this time?
Occupy Central pushed the authorities to the brink, and they are unlikely to brook another massive civil disorder. They may even quietly welcome a new round of violent protests as that would justify deploying People’s Liberation Army troops in Hong Kong to restore public order – and more importantly to remind Hong Kong people not to go too far and who ultimately calls the shots.
Hong Kong doesn’t need such a reminder. The overwhelming majority of us embrace our motherland. Any high-handed crackdown would only alienate the moderates. A whole generation of young hearts will be lost forever.
The doves in both Beijing and Hong Kong and all those who truly love this city need to try to ensure the situation on the streets does not descend to a level at which the hawks would dismiss calls for a non-violent crackdown as a sign of weakness that tempts an escalation of protests.
With maximum security in place, the vote in March 2017 will probably take place, and the swearing-in of the chief executive would be held on July 1. To what extent will that become an embarrassment for Beijing?
The next chief executive will become a constant target of public ridicule. Authorities’ efforts to preserve the legitimacy and dignity of the office will only drive the young and the radical to project their anger upon all other symbols of legal, executive and institutional authority, leading to a wholesale erosion of law and order.
This is the lull before the political storm, and preventive action should start now. The 40 per cent of Hong Kong people who opposed the reform package and the 50-plus per cent who supported it are both at a loss as what to do now and look to the government and activists on both sides of the political divide for a lead.
It is up to our leaders to salvage the situation. Between now and 2017, we still have time to narrow our differences and seek common ground. The government should relearn what effective governance is in our unique situation instead of indulging in wishful thinking that it can steer the community towards focusing only on economic and livelihood issues.
At the street level, Hong Kong’s understanding of democracy remains immature, and the desire for it is overwhelming. Put these two together and we have a dangerous potion. Effective governance in such a community cannot be defined simply as getting policies implemented, which seems to be the current administration’s preoccupation. It must also be judged by whether the people subjectively believe their views have been listened to and whether they feel they have been fairly treated.
Leung Chun-ying should stop trying to be commander-in-chief and start being the coalition-builder-in-chief. Both the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps ought to stop ignoring their shared destiny. Hong Kong can never achieve what we collectively aspire to do until the two sides start compromising and stop fighting.
If we fail, the spring of 2017 is sure to be bitter and barren.
C.K. Yeung is an education worker