Growing gap between ideals and reality

Growing gap between ideals and reality
Hong Kong Polytechnic University professor Chung Kim-wah (left) and University of Hong Kong director Robert Chung emptying a ballot box on Sunday, after the civil referendum held by Occupy Central organisers ended.

Mr Ronny Tong is throwing in the towel.

"Practically nil," the moderate pan-democrat legislator snaps, when asked about the odds that Hong Kong will find a way forward to elect its chief executive by 2017.

Mr Tong's pessimism reflects the worry among a swathe of Hong Kongers who are wondering how the city is going to bridge the widening chasm between ideals and reality.

Over a period of 10 days, 792,808 Hong Kongers - no small number given that the pool of registered voters stands at 3.5 million - cast their vote in an unofficial referendum, choosing their desired democratic model.

Of these, 42 per cent plumped for a plan by the Alliance for True Democracy, a coalition of pan-democrat lawmakers, which says that candidates will be nominated by both the public and political parties.

A resounding 88 per cent said the legislature should veto the government proposal if it "cannot satisfy international standards allowing genuine choices by electors".

Following the euphoria of exercising their vote, the question emerging is, now what?

The people, as Occupy Central organiser Benny Tai puts it, have spoken - and spoken loudly.

The problem is, the space for negotiating for a compromise has shrunk in tandem.

Under Hong Kong's Basic Law, the city's chief executive must be shortlisted by "a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".

But according to China and the Hong Kong government, all three proposals in the referendum would not make the cut since they call for "public nomination", the right for the public to choose the shortlist.

The reason they were tabled by the democracy advocates is understandable: there is the very real fear that Beijing will use this committee as a ruse to bar pan-democrats from election. This is especially after it stated that candidates have to "love Hong Kong" and "love China", a likely byword for a Communist Party supporter.

But mobilising public support for a futile battle - replacing the nominating committee with public nomination - is a waste of bullets. Meanwhile, more moderate proposals, such as that offered by Mr Tong and former chief secretary Anson Chan, which retain the nominating committee but expand and make it more representative, are now sidelined.

As Mr Tong puts it to The Straits Times, given the overwhelming turnout for the referendum, "it will be impossible for pan-democrat legislators to ignore the 700,000-plus voters". He adds: "The position is very clear: it's either civic (public) nomination or no deal."

The government proposal, which will be out later this year, has to win a two-thirds majority in the legislature. This means that at least some of the pan-democrats need to sign on to it.

For now, democracy advocacies like Dr Tai are looking for "creative proposals" to overcome the deadlock.

Political scientist Joseph Cheng, who is also the convenor of the Alliance, tells The Straits Times that "we are willing to consider any proposal that allows people meaningful choices and genuine competition".

By this, he says, he means that the system must allow for the possibility that a Beijing-endorsed candidate may not get the job. On whether this will include a proposal that does not allow for public nomination, he says: "We are willing to consider it."

A second referendum will be held after the government proposal is out, he notes, with people asked if they are happy with its plan.

The well-meaning Occupy Central organisers might have thought to use public nomination as a negotiating tactic. The problem is that with public sentiment now successfully whipped up, Hong Kongers - and their elected representatives - may not settle for anything less. And for Mr Tong, at least, the game is over.

"I'm taking a holiday," he says.

This article was first published on July 01, 2014.
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