It must be very tempting for all sides to drop the issue of political reform, at least for a while. The pan democrats are clearly suffering from "protest fatigue" as the much lower numbers taking part in this year’s 1 July march show. To date, all their achievements, if such they be, are negative ones: closing down major traffic arteries for 79 days in the Occupy protest; obstructing government business in LegCo and its committees; defeating the milksap reform package. They are certainly no closer to achieving their main objective of a more democratic system of government for our city.
The administration too is exhausted and has no stomach to renew the struggle. Three of our most senior officials – Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen and Constitutional and Mainland Affairs chief Raymond Tam – devoted themselves to the cause for months on end to no avail. Important figures from the central authorities sprang forth on demand with strident support and dire warnings of what would and wouldn’t happen if the package failed to pass, also without apparent effect.
Hence the lack of obvious takers to submit themselves to humiliation in a subsequent round, and a desire to focus on more straightforward economic development and livelihood issues.
And yet, and yet, there is a small persistent voice in my ear that just won’t let go of a simple thought: the main problem has not been fixed and is not going to go away.
The underlying problem is that the present arrangements do not give our chief executive, of whatever stripe, a proper mandate. And the root cause of that problem is that the structure and method of identifying members of the famous committee are not by any measure reasonably representative of Hong Kong or Hongkongers. So in the final analysis it does not matter whether we make the committee responsible for electing the chief executive – the situation in 2012 and most likely again in 2017 – or nominating candidates as was the intention in the now defeated package, it will not be fit for purpose until we reform it.
It is all very well the pan dems mocking C Y Leung by shouting "689" – the number of votes he secured from the 1200 members of the committee to secure his present term. In fact 689 would provide a very plausible mandate if the 1200 themselves were reasonably representative, but even 1199 votes would not provide a mandate if the committee retains its present shape and format. And giving five million people the opportunity to choose between candidates nominated by such a committee also fails to achieve the main objective.
This needs thinking about, and cometh the hour cometh the man (or men). Former chief executive Tung Chee Hwa has formed a think tank called Our Hong Kong Foundation. After a ritual expression of regret over defeat of the reform package, the body has announced its intention to reach out to the moderates among the pan democrats and see if there isn’t a way to move forward.
Meanwhile what’s this I see on the other side of the political spectrum? A prominent pan dem has just resigned from the political party he helped to found some years back on the grounds that it has become too militant and moved away from its original moderate stance. Step forward Ronny Tong who has also formed a think tank, called Path of Democracy, with the declared aim of reaching out across the political divide to see if a way cannot be found to achieve real progress while at the same time assuring Beijing of Hong Kong people’s bona fides.
I wonder if we could induce these two august bodies to think great thoughts together. Without wishing to seem too much of a cock-eyed optimist, it seems to me the auguries are reasonably promising. The committee is entirely a creature of local legislation so the central government and its minions need not be involved. It can be extensively reformed while still keeping within the bounds of the Basic Law and the various pronouncements of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. And as an added bonus, the head of the Beijing Liaison Office Zhang Xiao Ming has recently made a public promise not to talk about the subject of political reform for the next two years.
In sailing we call that a fair wind.