Sun, Jun 28, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Beijing’s problem with Hong Kong

By John Lim 林泉忠

Despite last year’s Occupy Central and “Umbrella” movements, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government still intends to propose “universal suffrage” for the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive election in line with China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s highly controversial announcement on Aug. 31 last year.

This proposal, disparaged by some commentators as a false imitation of universal suffrage, is actually aimed at blocking the possibility of Hong Kong’s pan-democracy camp — supported by an estimated 60 percent of the electorate — from fielding a candidate or candidates to contest the chief executive election. It was for this reason that the pan-democracy councilors in the territory’s Legislative Council unilaterally vetoed the proposal, with 28 legislators voting against, and eight for the motion.

The point is, now that the political reform proposal has been rejected, what happens to Hong Kongers’ demand for universal suffrage? Has this turn of events sounded the death knell for universal suffrage in Hong Kong?

Beijing could choose deal with the situation in one of three ways.

The first option is for Beijing and the Hong Kong government to continue as before, as if nothing has happened. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) would continue in his post, and the Aug. 31 announcement would be shelved.

However, this would only work if there were no more protest movements, and if Hong Kongers were to accept stasis. Leung would gradually win back society’s trust, and the SAR government could continue to operate as before.

However, this course of action is unlikely to be effective because Leung’s legitimacy is at an all-time low: The Hong Kong government has been mired in an administrative crisis for many years, the Occupy Central movement reached a crucial stage and now Leung’s political reform proposal has been vetoed.

At this time, it is difficult to imagine that Leung could continue to lead Hong Kong and spearhead social development and advancement. Beijing is acutely aware of this point and we must not forget what happened with former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華).

Beijing’s second choice would be to replace Leung in the short term, and shelve the idea of promoting universal suffrage. This would be effective, to a certain degree, and would be the least costly option, as far as Beijing is concerned.

The problem is that at the moment, Leung is faced with a much more serious problem than Tung was toward the end of his tenure, both in terms of his personal popularity and the scale of the administrative crisis, in which he is embroiled.

In addition, the rejection of the SAR government’s political reform proposal demonstrates that the SAR government does not have the ability to bring Hong Kong society together. It bears the most direct responsibility to see the political reform proposal is passed.

Simply put, coming up with a fourth chief executive to replace Leung and lead Hong Kong, a member of the establishment with a reputation for being more enlightened, would, to a certain extent, meet the expectations of Hong Konger’s and reduce the pressure on Beijing and the SAR government.

However, this would not get to the root of the problem, and it would not fundamentally solve the SAR government’s problem of legitimacy.

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