Boycotts show youthful passion misplaced

Updated: 2014-09-29 05:47

By Leung Kwok-leung(HK Edition)

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The citywide college student strike organized by the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) made a lot of noise after it began on Monday last week. The participating students are obviously passionate about their demands, bluntly spelled out in an "oath" published on the first day of the campus strike. The movement shows that today's college students care about political affairs and society. They are hot-blooded people capable of thinking for themselves - not bookworms locked up in ivory towers. The boycotts remind me of a line from a poem by the great Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) lyricist, Lu You, who told himself to "worry about the nation despite my humble position". The passion shown by the students also reminds me of my own passion as a youth plunging into the political issues of that time.

The "Oath" proposes three political demands: 1. Establishing public nomination as the official method for nominating candidates for election as Chief Executive by universal suffrage in 2017; 2. Initiating legislative reform aimed at abolishing all functional constituency seats in the Legislative Council (LegCo), and 3. (The Hong Kong government) officially apologizing to the Hong Kong public and withdrawing unjust decisions regarding constitutional reform.

Apart from those demands they also call attention to some issues concerning people's livelihoods. These are in need of government action soon. Such concerns show that today's students in Hong Kong are not "scholars who care about nothing but their academic studies". For this I applaud them.

As for their political demands, we already know constitutional development must follow an orderly, gradual approach. It can then proceed to LegCo elections by universal suffrage after the CE poll by "one person, one vote" is successfully completed. The functional constituency seats will definitely be phased out when constitutional reform reaches this stage - as clearly stated in the Basic Law and the relevant decisions by the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC).

The first of the three political demands raised by the HKFS is public nomination. This concerns the electoral reform plan the SAR government will submit to LegCo for approval later this year. Public nomination may sound fair, but in reality it is not. This is because the only way to implement it is to raise the "threshold" so high that few will be able to afford to stand for election. For example, anyone who wants to stand for election as leader of Taiwan must collect at least 258,000 legitimate signatures in support of his candidacy and pay NT$15 million ($495,000) as guaranteed sponsorship. Even seasoned politician James Soong, from one of the four most powerful families, admitted it was difficult to meet these requirements.

Indeed, public nomination is not only unfair but particularly complex to implement. It will cost a fortune just to verify the legitimacy of each person who signs to vouch for an aspiring politician. Not to mention the high probability of losing one's eligibility as an election candidate and being prosecuted because of cheating in the nomination process. That is why so many Western democracies have chosen not to allow public nomination in actual elections even though it is guaranteed by their constitution - including the United States, Britain and France.

I can cite an example much closer to home: Is the head of the HKFS elected by more than 330,000 students in all institutions of higher education in Hong Kong upon nomination by "public" recommendation? Apparently not. Even if student organizations eventually plan to do this, it would be too difficult to implement. It may result in a candidate winning by a fraction of the total vote.

At present, some people with strong political motives are conspiring with a few rebellious youths to resurrect the widely rejected "public nomination" issue. This is an excuse to hoodwink students into getting involved in campus activism. Their goal is to derail the electoral reform process.

I hope these young people realize they are being used as "cannon fodder" for the political ambitions of a few individuals. While it is commendable for students to care about society, they should remember their academic pursuits are financed by taxpayers' money - including their parents' hard-earned income. They have an obligation to ensure public resources are not wasted in counterproductive activities.

The author is a veteran journalist based in Hong Kong.

(HK Edition 09/29/2014 page7)