True democrats must support political reform

Updated: 2015-03-11 07:35

By Leung Kwok-leung(HK Edition)

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The SAR government will present its constitutional reform bill, focusing on the mechanism for selecting the Chief Executive (CE) by universal suffrage in 2017, to the Legislative Council (LegCo). According to the Basic Law, in order to pass the electoral reform plan must be approved by at least two-thirds of all 70 LegCo members. Currently the 27 "pan-democrat" lawmakers, who account for slightly more than a third of LegCo members, are determined to veto any constitutional reform bill formulated in accordance with the Basic Law and relevant decisions of the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). This means there are two possible ways for Hong Kong's constitutional development to proceed if the government's electoral reform bill is blocked by the opposition.

One would be that, in accordance with the Basic Law, universal suffrage would not be implemented for the 2017 CE election and the existing format would continue to be used.

The other option, also in accordance with the Basic Law, is that the CE could dissolve the LegCo and present the constitutional reform bill to the new legislature for approval. But the CE would have to resign if the bill again failed to pass in LegCo.

In my opinion the second option could never happen, because it would result in twin constitutional crises with the absence of a CE in addition to the failure of constitutional reform. Even if the new LegCo were to approve the electoral reform bill, there would be insufficient time for the SAR government to prepare for the implementation of universal suffrage for the 2017 CE election. If the new LegCo didn't approve the bill, the CE would have to resign and there could be no way of knowing how long it would take for a new CE to re-submit the constitutional reform bill.

It must be remembered that constitutional development is not Leung's pet project. It concerns 7 million Hong Kong residents and the central government. It also concerns China's sovereignty and national security. Therefore, even if Leung wanted take the second path, the central government wouldn't let him.

With the first option being the only viable one, Hong Kong would have to accept that the electoral reform bill would be blocked in the LegCo later this year. If this were the case would Hong Kong be able to implement universal suffrage in the year 2022? Not necessarily. I cannot see a better prospect for the election of the CE by universal suffrage even in 2027, or a generation later for that matter. Why?

Firstly, it is hard to imagine that the next CE would have the courage and conviction to table the constitutional reform bill following such a setback. Particularly as another "Occupy Central" campaign could result in response to the second attempt. So why would the next CE risk inconveniencing local residents and businesses with these problems if a constitutional reform bill based on the Basic Law and NPCSC decisions were submitted again?

Just because the NPCSC agreed that Hong Kong could potentially implement universal suffrage for the CE election as early as 2017 does not mean the SAR government is obliged to try again should the first attempt fail. It is an undertaking of such complexity that no CE should try again without finding out what went wrong the first time. Moreover, the central government is unlikely to encourage the CE to try again so quickly. There is no point in doing this only to see the effort and resources wasted without achieving consensus.

But if there were overwhelming public demand for another attempt, the SAR government would have to produce a constitutional reform plan which complied with the Basic Law and decisions of the NPCSC. This would also have to be acceptable to more than two-thirds of LegCo members as well as the majority of Hong Kong residents. It seems no political figure or organization is capable of creating such a plan at present. This is because local residents have pampered the opposition parties, who don't mind biting the hand that feeds them. The only way for the public to rid itself of these parasites is to vote them out of power in the 2016 LegCo election.

Secondly, in the short term the NPCSC is unlikely to change its framework decision, reached last August, on methods for selecting the CE by universal suffrage. This is because it is a legally binding document. Any change to such a constitutional decree is not only frivolous but a mockery of the rule of law.

Thirdly, the current constitutional reform plans have room for "tweaks" to the composition of the Nominating Committee. This includes the possibility of giving some of the 60 seats held by the agriculture and fisheries sectors to a newly added sector. This would enhance the representativeness of the Nominating Committee (NC). Naturally, the agriculture and fisheries sector is against this. But it might concede in the overall public interest.

The future NC is likely to strengthen rather than relax the "screening" of CE candidates. It is necessary to weed out those trying to seize Hong Kong's governing power through democratic elections and serving the interests of foreign powers at China's expense. The late paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, knew this well enough. That is why he insisted on a NC in the Basic Law. This is why I believe that the best option is to seize the opportunity now. True democrats have no excuse now but to support it.

The author is a veteran journalist based in Hong Kong.

(HK Edition 03/11/2015 page10)