Letters from leaders of Hong Kong's political parties and government departments.
Is Political Reform a Penicillin for our Current Pains?
Let’s not be pedantic about it. The Fugitive Offenders Bill is dead. No matter how one describes its current state of health, call it “shelved”, “suspended” or “withdrawn” or what you will, the fact of the matter is, the Government has openly acknowledged it would not bring it back without community consensus and there is none at the moment and certainly will not be in the near future. In truth, the Government has said it is content to let sleeping dog lie and the Bill will no doubt lapse next July at the end of the current legislative term. The more important and pressing question to ask is: what now?
I don’t mean whether, or if any, or all of the demands of those opposing the Bill will be met to defuse the immediate crisis. That is a matter for the Government to deal with. I am talking about a more fundamental problem: how to deal with the seemingly irreconcilable anger of the younger generation who turned out in force during those tumultuous days in June and on 1st of July, and their profound distrust of the SAR Government and the Central Government. Unless this problem is properly tackled, even meeting the demands of those opposing the Bill will only delay the same or similar eruption of anger and distrust until the next controversy.
No doubt, livelihood policies relating to the younger generation is an important issue; so is housing; and employment; perhaps even education. All these can be addressed by different and perhaps more generous allocation of resources, but some are saying money cannot buy everything. They are saying core values and freedoms are perhaps more important. We are proud to say we have Rule of Law; and we have basic freedoms like freedom of expression; of demonstration; of speech and of the press. If so, you may be forgiven for asking, so what exactly is lacking? Answer is, Democracy. In particular, western style Democracy. Since the last failure of political reform, we have the infamous Occupy Central and now violent protests against the Fugitive Offenders Bill, both moved mainly by young people. So that is what we need to address.
If political reform is one of the main answers then perhaps it will be instructive to first of all look at the basic historical facts relating to the last failure of political reform. Historically, several important facts stand out. First, there was no genuine dialogue; whether between the Pan Democrats and the SAR Government or with the Central Government. Secondly, the Pan Democrats insisted there must be civic nomination of any candidacy of the Chief Executive; in other words, nomination must be done outside a Nominating Committee, contrary to what is stipulated in the Basic Law. The Pan Democrats also threatened to carry out Occupy Central if their demand for civic nomination was not met. Thirdly, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress responded by a decision made on 31st August, 2014 insisting on a rather conservative make-up of the Nominating Committee. The Pan Democrats did not take the August 31st decision kindly and went on to veto the political reform package. That is history.
How do we progress from there, if we can progress at all? The first answer must be: we must have dialogue. It’s easy to say compromise is the art of politics but if you cannot or will not even meet with your adversary, how will compromise come about? Yes, civic nomination and 31st August decision, respectively are hard hurdles to overcome; but why do we need to resolve the core differences first before establishing a dialogue? Is just coming together and sitting down with one another not a better start? A start of no doubt a long process, yes; but hopefully a long process by the end of which we can at last see a broad consensus being reached.
The second thing is there must not be any pre-conditions to any dialogue. There is no point in insisting on any pre-conditions like: there must be civic nomination, or, you cannot change an iota of the 31st August decision. Such pre-conditions will only kill the very thing we hope to see: the beginning of a meaningful dialogue. So both sides must enter the meeting room empty handed, if only to ensure they will not leave empty handed. Do you think they can do that? Well, I don’t know; but there is no harm in trying.
The third thing is how to start? This is a chicken and egg situation. The usual politician’s mentality is I shall only move if you do first. So who should go first? Who should first indicate he is willing to try talking. Well, the SAR Government has always indicated it is willing to talk. Indeed, they kept asking the Pan Democrats to sit down and talk at the last political reform but civic nomination stood in the way. So perhaps it is logical for the Pan Democrats to start by giving out some kind of positive signal that after all they are true democrats and they truly believe in achieving democracy in Hong Kong within their lifetime. Note I am not suggesting they should give any indication that they would drop any of their principles or drop their ideals as to how universal suffrage could be achieved in Hong Kong. After all, a dialogue with no pre-conditions means just that: there should be no pre-conditions.
But we know in politics, logic does not come into it. So we can only hope good sense will prevail on the Government’s side. History tells us we cannot pin much hope on the Pan Democrats but still if this is to work, some positive signal or sign will have to come from the Pan Democrats side at some point.
Perhaps politicians are like children. Perhaps even spoiled children at that. But we should be comforted by the thought that at heart, politicians should behave with the best interest of the community at large. How best to answer the fervent wish of our young people and perhaps the vast majority of the people in Hong Kong if not to achieve democracy in our life time? You do not get democracy bestowed on you for doing nothing. And you do not get to be called democrats for doing nothing. Let us all get out of our respective ivory towers and try to do something. Something different. Something called talking. We owe it to not just young people, but the whole of Hong Kong to do just that.