December 01, 2005

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We interupt this broadcast

Hong Kongers were outraged last night when their normally woeful TV viewing was interupted by a 5 minute pleading from Donald Tsang, Beijing's cheerleader in chief in Hong Kong, to stay at home on Sunday and to pass his electoral reforms. There was much debate whether these 5 minutes counted against the compulsory API quota for the night. And did The Don thank George W. for the idea?

A senior Tsang aide said that if the broadcast turned out to be popular with the public, it might turn out to be a regular part of Tsang's political repertory.

"We borrowed the idea from the president of the United States who appealed to the country on TV when he announced the US military invasion of Iraq," the aide said.

There is a certain irony in comparing Hong Kong's struggle for democracy with the American invasion in Iraq and Iraqi democracy. Obviously this public servant has had an irony by-pass.

The biggest question was whether this plea was an own goal or a canny move by The Don to head off the expected large turn-out for Sunday's democracy march? Has The Don blundered on the one thing Beijing trusted he would sort out? Only time will tell.

As a first test of political skill, this is a big one. The Don must have a contingency plan. Ideally he would firm up his previous pledge to announce a timetable for universal suffrage during his second term, after 2007. In other words, set a timetable for a timetable. The democrats must then be prepared to accept that offer and hold him to it. Beijing has to sit back and shut up about it, trusting their man in Hong Kong to do right by both them and the people he supposedly represents. It's all long odds. But the alternative is worse - because at this stage there is none.

Full text of Tsang's speech below the jump.

Fellow Hong Kong citizens, as far as I can remember, former governors or the former chief executive had rarely spoken directly to the community on television about constitutional development issues. I have chosen to do so tonight because democratic development in Hong Kong will soon enter a defining stage in December. Will we be able to stride ahead? Or will we be left marching on the spot, going nowhere? The Legislative Council will have to make a decision in three weeks' time. At this crucial juncture, I feel that I must speak to you personally about my thoughts. Our proposed constitutional development package is a democratic package. It can enable Hong Kong to take a big step forward along the road to universal suffrage. It significantly enhances the democratic element of the method for selecting the chief executive by doubling the size of the Election Committee from 800 to 1,600. All the 400 District Council members directly elected by more than 3 million registered voters will be included in the Election Committee. For the 2008 Legco, the number of seats will increase by 10. Five will be returned through direct elections in the geographical constituencies. The other five will be elected from among the district councillors, and will likewise have an electorate base of 3 million voters.

Over the past few weeks, I have thought long and hard about whether we could develop a better and more feasible package. We all know that there are different views in Hong Kong about the pace of achieving universal suffrage. While some consider that the current pace of constitutional development as proposed in the package is not quick enough and would want to have universal suffrage for the chief executive and Legco elections as soon as possible, others are concerned that by moving too fast we may undermine the merits of the current system, which would impact negatively on balanced participation.

Our proposed package might not be all things to all people, but I believe that, after a long period of public consultation, it has given due regard to the aspirations of different sectors of the community. The proposed package has not come easily. So I personally appeal to you all: do not let the hard work and efforts of the past two years be wasted. I really cannot see any other option that can better suit Hong Kong's current circumstances, and be acceptable to all interested parties.

We are now facing a real danger of our democratic development coming to a halt. Some people insist that the government should propose a timetable for universal suffrage right now; otherwise, they will not support our reform package. Their stance puzzles me. Why should there be a conflict between supporting the government proposals - which advance democracy in Hong Kong - and wanting a road map and timetable for universal suffrage? How can the demands for a road map and timetable be served by rejecting the government proposals? What good will this do to democratic development in Hong Kong? Will this approach benefit the people of Hong Kong? Indeed, is this the wish of Hong Kong people?

Various opinion polls indicate that most Hong Kong people support our proposals. More importantly, a majority of Hong Kong people feel that the electoral arrangements for 2007 and 2008 should be handled separately from the issue of a timetable for universal suffrage. This underlines the pragmatism of Hong Kong people, who believe that constitutional development should not be hamstrung by the debate over a timetable for universal suffrage. They think we should pass the constitutional development package first so that we can move towards universal suffrage from 2007 and 2008.

To achieve the ultimate goal of universal suffrage, the first step will be for Legco to pass our proposals. As for a road map and timetable, I have pledged to discuss these matters in the Commission on Strategic Development and other channels as soon as possible. We cannot rush the matter; but we will not be playing for time either.

Fellow citizens, we are at a crossroads in our democratic development. If Legco passes our reform package, we will take a big step towards our goal of universal suffrage. With the success gained, there is a greater chance of reaching a consensus on how to achieve universal suffrage.

However, if the package were unfortunately voted down by Legco, then constitutional development for 2007 and 2008 would come to a halt. If this happens, how can we realistically expect to reach a consensus on proposals for the chief executive and Legco elections in 2012 and secure the necessary support from two-thirds of the legislators? Would rejecting our reform package bring us closer to our goal, or make it more distant?

We are one step away from advancing democracy in Hong Kong. I will do my utmost to secure legislators' support for our package. I fully support the move towards universal suffrage in accordance with the Basic Law, and there is also consensus among legislators to move towards that goal. There is no practical difference between us. The only difference is whether or not a timetable for universal suffrage should be linked to the proposals for the 2007 and 2008 elections. I hope that all legislators will cast their votes sensibly, with full regard to the overall interests and wishes of Hong Kong people.

Promoting democratic development is the common wish of the [Hong Kong] government and the Hong Kong people. It is also the established policy of the central government. Let us work together to push forward our constitutional development with a pragmatic attitude. Let's not miss this opportunity before us.

If we choose to mark time rather than stride ahead we will be further away from our goal of universal suffrage, not closer to it.

posted by Simon on 12.01.05 at 08:57 AM in the Hong Kong category.


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Hong Kong Constitutional Reform And Invasion Of Iraq
Excerpt: We borrowed the idea from the president
Weblog: Letters from China
Tracked: December 1, 2005 04:59 PM


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