LONDON –Hong Kong’s democracy movement has gained admiration worldwide. The principles,decency, and behavior of its youthful vanguard inspire confidence in the qualities of the generation that one day will run the great city. That said, it is time to move on to a sensible endgame.
the standoff between Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and the demonstrators
continues, the more likely it is that individual citizens – and Hong
Kong itself – will be hurt. The Hong Kong government should demonstrate
some statesmanship, which the so-called “Umbrella Movement” – occupying
the moral high ground and not wishing to risk losing public support –
would surely reciprocate. A substantive and successful dialogue with the
government would not require the protesters to call off their campaign
for democracy; it would simply end the current phase of a campaign that
eventually will succeed.
their protestations to the contrary, Hong Kong Chief Executive C. Y.
Leung and his government have considerable room for maneuver. As many
Hong Kong citizens have argued, the Chinese government’s current
position is based on a report,submitted by Leung’s officials, which
purported to reflect accurately the outcome of local consultations on
report plainly understated the degree of public support for change.
Given what has happened in the last few weeks, Leung could quite
properly give a new report to the authorities in Beijing focusing on two
issues not proscribed by Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
issue concerns not just the immediate question of the terms on which the
Chief Executive will be elected in 2017, but also how the Legislative
Council should be elected in 2016 and after. The procedure is largely a
matter for the Hong Kong government to decide.
It is surprising that 17 years
after the handover of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China, Hong
Kong still does not have a directly elected legislature.In December
1992, Margaret Thatcher suggested in a speech in the House of Lords that, if all went well, Hong Kong could have universal suffrage by 2007.
has not gone well. The legislature today comprises a mix of directly
elected members and those representing functional constituencies:
corporate interests and groups of employees. Some civic groups have
advocated increasing the number of directly elected legislators and
opening up the functional constituencies to broader electorates.
Moreover, the brake that the functional constituencies can put on
legislation should be scrapped, leaving decisions to a simple majority.
This could be accompanied by a pledge to create a legislature composed
entirely of directly elected members in 2020.
issue concerns the composition and the voting rules of the
handpicked1,200-member election committee that will choose the Chief
Executive in the future. The current proposed arrangements would permit
the Chinese government to veto any candidate that it did not like,
prompting criticism that what is on offer is an Iranian-style election:
“You can vote for anyone we choose.”
The Hong Kong government could
call for changes to increase the openness and fairness by which the
Chief Executive is chosen, without abandoning its current method in
favor of universal suffrage. According to the Basic Law, the election
committee should be “broadly representative” – a provision that the
committee’s current composition violates. Its membership is chosen by
only 7% of the total Hong Kong electorate, and its voting procedures
seek to prevent the nomination of any candidates who may harbor
1997,55-61% of voters have voted for democratic candidates in
Legislative Council elections. The last time a slightly smaller election
committee met (to choose Leung), less restrictive constraints on
candidate selection were in place, and the leader of the Democratic
Party was able to be nominated (though he still received less than 7% of
and his team should put forward proposals to broaden the electoral base
of the election committee and open up the nominating process for
candidates. There are plenty of recommendations from civil-society
groups about how to accomplish these objectives. Both sides will need to
give a little to prevent the confrontation in the streets from
escalating, with the police forced to provide a substitute for a
British government has said that it is important that “the people of
Hong Kong have a genuine choice.” Leung and his colleagues can give them
one. This would not be all that the Umbrella Movement has demanded, but
it should encourage the protesters to reach a compromise without
departing from their longer-term goal.
why Leung should embrace dialogue and compromise. Even a ruler whose
mandate comes from heaven should heed the words of the Confucian sage
Mencius: “Heaven sees with the eyes of its people. Heaven hears with the
ears of its people.”