Call the Samaritans

I don’t know how to convey this message gently so let me just come right out with it: the government is going to have to give a little ground on political reform and the pan democrats are going to have to swallow their pride and agree a formula that will allow the package to go through. It is essential for Hong Kong’s future governance that there be real progress in the next two years, or we face a decade of obstructionism and turmoil which will do untold damage to the fabric of our society.

That is the bad news. The good news is that possible compromise solutions are beginning to emerge that offer a glimmer of hope. Let me outline one of them for the purposes of discussion.

The Election Committee does indeed transform itself into the Nominating Committee with the structure and proportion of the four sectors remaining the same, BUT corporate votes are replaced by individual votes.

To become a prospective candidate – note: not an actual one yet – the individual must secure the support of a modest number of members, say 10%.

Now comes the tricky part: turning prospective candidates into potential ones. Each of those who has secured the necessary minimum of 10% -- there could in theory be up to 10 but more likely five or six – now has to secure the support of a certain number of members of the Legislative Council. A figure of 20 has been suggested though it is not set in stone.

The winnowing process gets us down to two or three candidates and the slate is put to the full Nominating Committee en bloc for a straight up and down yes/no vote. The list must obtain the support of at least half of all the members. If it does, they become the actual names on the ballot paper put before the registered voters of Hong Kong for election by universal suffrage. If it does not, the whole process starts again.

The winner is the candidate who secures more than 50% of valid votes, if necessary after a second round of voting (i.e. if there are three candidates and none gets over half the votes on the first ballot). He or she is then appointed by the Central People’s Government in Beijing.

What does the government have to swallow to make such a system work? First it must give up the principle of corporate voting, surely something that is hardly worth dying in a ditch for. It must also concede a role for LegCo. Is that really a big stretch? After all, the winner is going to have to work with these guys for the whole of his term. At least a smidgen of support from the outset might be useful.

What about the pan dems? Well they have to accept the metamorphosis of the Election Committee, and the 50% threshold, plus the demise of civic nomination. But in exchange they get scrapping of corporate voting (with positive spillover into LegCo itself), a role for LegCo akin to party nomination and the high likelihood of at least one candidate being acceptable to their camp.

What about Beijing? The Basic Law reigns supreme, the 31 August decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress is respected and the pledge of universal suffrage is honoured. Most importantly, their appointee has a real mandate to govern Hong Kong effectively. At the same time, the necessary safeguards are in place to ensure that all candidates are acceptable to the Central Government.

The one major fly in the ointment from the pan democratic side is the experience of 2010. Then the Democratic Party did sign up for a courageous compromise with Beijing that secured real progress but saw their candidates hammered at the polls in 2012. The lesson that the party seems to have learned from that episode was that any compromise is fatal and is a form of political suicide. That was actually the wrong lesson, and anyway this time round the public mood is different. People want the opportunity to vote, so pragmatists are more likely to be rewarded and the obdurate punished. The real message is: don’t go alone, take at least some members of other parties with you.

If anyone is interested, I have the WhatsApp contact of Ronny Tong. And if I am wrong and it does turn out to be suicide by a different method? Well, there’s always the Samaritans.