Posted: May 28, 2014
The shock of what happened at Occupy Central’s computerized trial run threw everyone off balance (May 15 post). Some 2,500 supporters gathered at five locations around town on May 6 to test pollster Robert Chung’s computer design skills. Participants could choose one from among a slate of 15 reform proposals that interested parties and individuals submitted to the government during its just-concluded five-month consultation period. The public had been invited to come up with electoral reform designs for 2017, when Hong Kong will for the first time be allowed to choose its Chief Executive via universal suffrage.
Occupy Central’s organizers selected 15 that met international standards, which is their ideal objective. Their plan was to use the top three proposals from the May 6 exercise to conduct a city-wide online poll that will be conducted over three days: June 20-22. All registered Hong Kong voters can participate if they want, following the precedent Robert Chung and activists created with their online-plus-paper-ballot Chief Executive preference poll in 2012.
The only problem on May 6, complained the losers afterward, was that it had been hijacked by radicals. Organizers also said they were disappointed by the result. But whether by accident or design, the first three proposals on the ballot screen were indeed the most radical and they were the top three vote winners. “Radical” in this case refers to demands, building up for over a year, that the general public be allowed to have a say in the nominating process. This is in defiance of Beijing’s repeated admonitions that public participation would violate the intent of Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution, cannot be allowed, and so on.
Besides the ballot rank order, supporters of the top three, and especially the top two, also worked hard to get out the vote by encouraging their people to attend Occupy Central’s May 6 deliberation day where the experiment was conducted. The top three winners: students for public nomination, 1,124 votes; People Power for public nomination, 685 votes; Alliance for True Democracy with a three-part proposal for public nomination, or political party nomination, or committee nomination, 445 votes. Total for the day’s exercise was 2,508 (信報 – Hong Kong Economic Journal, May 7).
Alas, there were some unhappy losers. Among them was doyenne of the democracy movement Anson Chan Fang On-sang, whose HongKong 2020 design for committee nomination received only 43 votes. The Civic Party’s Ronny Tong Ka-wah, with 17 votes, was positively bad-tempered in defeat (HK Economic Journal, May 8; Ming Pao Daily, May 13). He had introduced his design for committee nomination early on, last October, and refused to withdraw it after the all-party coalition, Alliance for True Democracy, finally settled on its tripartite combination in January (Jan. 13 post). Tong’s Civic Party is a member of the Alliance and supported its three-part proposal.
After the May 6 vote, Anson Chan’s instinctive reaction was to interpret the result as an affront to Beijing. The deference to authority runs deep here and she was, after all, a top colonial civil servant long before she turned her hand to election reform politics. She suggested that all 15 proposals be put before the public on June 22. Moderates would otherwise be disenfranchised because the three choices could not represent Hong Kongers’ various preferences (South China Morning Post, Ming Pao, May 8). Occupy Central organizers rejected her suggestion but are now planning something else.
Most potentially damaging, however, was the Democratic Party’s reaction and especially that of its leader Emily Lau Wai-hing, who seems bent on carrying forward the feud with her one-time comrades-in-arms whatever the cost. She and other party leaders said they were quitting the all-party Alliance for True Democracy because mutual trust among its members had been broken. The Democratic Party is protesting specifically the behavior of People Power and the League of Social Democrats. Both had put forward their own proposals featuring civic nomination. They continued to support the tripartite Alliance proposal but campaigned for their own more enthusiastically … to reinforce the idea of public nomination, which they regard as essential for blocking a mainland-style managed election. That the Democratic Party was part of the Alliance and thus had a winning horse in the race seemed to matter less than the party’s ongoing feud with the radicals and especially with People Power.
The logic of Emily Lau’s continued fierce insistence that “they are not our allies,” and “not part of the democratic camp” has even veteran onlookers scratching their heads. So does the Democratic Party’s declaration that it aims to quit the Alliance despite having won a place on Occupy Central’s June ballot (commentator Lee Yee in Apple Daily, May 13). Lau actually went further. She said the Alliance has now completed its “historical mission” and should cease to function (Ming Pao, May 16).
At the root of this quarrel is, perhaps, the welcome People Power extended at its inception in 2011, to remnants of Emily Lau’s old Frontier fighters. She was convener of the small Frontier political action group from its founding in 1996 until 2008, when she joined the Democratic Party after nearly losing her seat in the 2008 Legislative Council election. About half the group followed her into the Democratic Party but the others did not. They later claimed she had not only abandoned them and dissolved the group but made it difficult to carry on without her. This they did, however, and were welcomed into People Power not as individuals but as a group. Members still use her old black-on-yellow Frontier logo, combined with People Power’s yellow-on-black, as and when they want to make a point … like a feuding couple that can’t resist tormenting each other long after the divorce is final. For its part, People Power’s most recent contribution to this feud was its attempt to win a District Council seat at the Democratic Party’s expense in the March 23rd South Horizons by-election. Both of them lost (April 14 post).
COMMON SENSE TO THE RESCUE … For Now
Who knocked heads together is a story for Joseph Cheng Yu-shek to tell when this is over. Cheng is the long-suffering Alliance for True Democracy convener who now looks like he has been living for a year on too many fast-food rice boxes and too few hours’ sleep. He called yet another meeting, for May 21, and afterward announced that the idea of disbanding the Alliance had not been placed on the agenda.
The Democratic Party has agreed to campaign together with everyone else for a high turnout during the June 20-22 poll. Party leaders say they still aim to quit the Alliance, but only afterward. Cheng says he hopes they will continue to cooperate since all are working toward the same goal. He said the public had pinned its hopes on the Alliance and reminded everyone that the greatest danger now confronting them all is the ultra-conservative mainland-style election proposal being championed by pro-Beijing partisans (Ming Pao, May 22). Cheng has also committed the Alliance to sponsor a conventional opinion poll, which will assess public views on electoral reform plans a few days ahead of Occupy Central’s June 20-22 exercise.
But probably more important than Cheng’s mediation efforts was the intervention of some respected elders. In any event, three old friends spoke out and all made headlines to the same effect: either work together or fail together. The three: Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun 【陳日君】, now retired, who has never been one to worry too much about the separation of church and state when urgent political issues beckon; a founder of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee Chu-ming; and Anson Chan herself who has gone out of her way to deflect attention from her initial instinctive negative reaction.
Chan first tried to coax Ronny Tong back to good humor after he declared in a fit of pique that he would not participate in the June 20-22 exercise and then got into a public spat with fellow Civic Party member Alan Leong Kah-kit. Chan also met with other “nominating committee moderates,” denied the suggestion that she aimed to set up a separate platform with them, and expressed shock at the government’s May 15 blanket rejection of all popular calls for public nomination. Finally, Chan not only announced that she intended to vote on June 20-22 but began urging everyone else to do the same. A low turnout, she said, might give Beijing officials the wrong impression and lull them into thinking their conservative filtering proposals were acceptable (Apple Daily: May 14, 15, 17, 23; Ming Pao, May 23).
Martin Lee issued a stirring plea on the eve of the Alliance’s May 21st meeting. Stop quibbling over reform designs and come out in force on June 22, he said. He also warned against casting a blank vote in protest, contradicting the initial response of Occupy Central organizer Benny Tai who had made the suggestion when he, too, was thrown off balance by the May 6 deliberation day outcome (Ming Pao, May 8). Martin Lee warned that democrats were falling victim to the oldest tactic around: divide and rule. And he should know, he said, because he had been doing battle with Beijing’s united front tactics for years. They were now succeeding again, by effectively dividing democrats over the issue of electoral reform (Apple, May 21).
Cardinal Zen has not been an active participant in the political reform debate but now he has come forward with some ideas of his own to help remedy Occupy Central’s troubles. He, too, says a big turnout on June 20-22 is crucial to the cause. People should see it not as a vote for public nomination but for the objective of a genuine universal suffrage election. He was also contemplating another period of fast and abstinence but at 82, friends convinced him it might not be such a good idea health-wise. Instead, he is now invoking the memory of Indian civil disobedience leader Mahatma Gandhi and his march to the sea in protest against a colonial salt tax. Cardinal Zen’s equivalent is a resolute get-out-the-vote march that will take him through each of Hong Kong’s 18 districts ahead of the June 20-22 poll (Ming Pao, May 21, Apple, May 22).
In the interests of boosting turnout and the credibility of the June 20-22 exercise, Occupy Central organizers are now planning to add a fourth option. They aim to address the concerns of moderates who are allegedly still fearful of confronting Beijing and challenging officials with the demand for public nomination. The idea is to give voters a chance to say whether or not they want an electoral reform design that meets international standards and at least guarantees a choice of candidates.
As to why this might be thought necessary, Ming Pao Daily just released the results of its May poll, fifth in a series asking the same questions since April 2013. They were based on conservative assumptions and phrased before demands for public participation in the nominating process began to develop. Only 28% oppose the idea of a nominating committee first guaranteeing that candidates do not oppose the central government, a DECLINE of 10 percentage points since last summer. Universal suffrage would then proceed with the approved candidates. Support for the idea of letting a nominating committee do the vetting job has risen steadily and now stands at 51%. Only 24% support Occupy Central, the purpose of which is not included in the question (the purpose being to promote a genuine international standards universal suffrage election); 56% now oppose the idea, UP 10 percentage points over a year ago (Ming Pao, May 26).
Activists have been working non-stop during that same 2013-14 period covered by Ming Pao‘s poll. So either the average person polled has not been listening or does not agree with any of the new ideas. The poll was conducted for Ming Pao by HKU’s Public Opinion Program, as are most democracy movement polls including those of Occupy Central. *
Seems like maybe the game is almost over and the government certainly hopes so. A new public service announcement is now preceding news broadcasts. It informs viewers that there are only “three steps” to the 2017 Chief Executive election, illustrated with stick-figure graphics: (1) the nominating committee must nominate candidates, no question about it; (2) voters will then be able to achieve the promised goal of universal suffrage by choosing one of the approved candidates; after which (3) Beijing must appoint.
* HKU POP has done some polls for the Alliance for True Democracy that show majorities for public nomination … Ming Pao and ATD polls all available on the HKU POP websdite: http://hkupop.hku.hk/chinese/index.html