A Spoonful of Sugar
There is bad news for anyone who is hoping things will calm down on the political front after the present Legislative Council term ends in a few weeks time.
On the contrary, after a summer pause for everyone to catch their breath, pandemonium will break out at a higher pitch than ever.
First will come the LegCo elections when we can expect some pretty lively campaigning, especially for the five seats to be returned by the new “super" constituencies. Then the refreshed Council will assemble to hear the first Policy Address from incoming Chief Executive, Leung Chun Ying.
In addition to addressing a flurry of urgent socioeconomic issues – I helpfully set out a five-point agenda for him in this column a few weeks ago – Mr Leung is going to have to lay out the framework for two political hot potatoes: the next stage of our democratic development, and how to take forward our obligation to enact national security legislation.
Taking LegCo elections first, the issue of what to do with the 35 functional constituencies, in particular the 30 rotten borough equivalents, looms large. Ultimately, they are probably going to have to be abolished but it is unlikely this can be done on one go. Reform of any kind will require support from a number of members returned by the very constituencies that most need to be changed and this will not be easy to obtain.
Turkeys, after all, are not famous for voting for Christmas.
Perhaps the most that could be achieved in the first phase would be substantial reform rather than outright abolition. A good way to start would be to set a minimum number of voters for each FC that wanted to survive – say 20,000. Any that can achieve that figure by broadening their electorate could stay at least for 2016. Any that could not would become either directly elected or additional "super" seats.
In the run-up to 2020, the community could decide whether to go a step further – ramping up the minimum number of voters in each to 50,000, say – or scrap the FCs altogether.
These are just options to mull over. But we should all be clear about one thing: standing still in 2016 is not an option if we are to achieve democracy by the target year of 2020. And people will want to hear Mr Leung’s thoughts on the subject as soon as possible. The 2013 Policy Address would be the last possible occasion for fairly detailed proposals to be floated, so some preliminary thoughts this year would be a useful start.
Similarly with the nomination process for the Chief Executive election in 2017. This probably is one issue that can be pushed back to next year, but not much beyond that because the public will want some idea of how this is going before reaching a firm opinion on the proposals for LegCo.
A Civic Party member wrote in the SCMP last week that the Basic Law is a contract that cannot be breached. He is correct, but it does rather beg the question of when his party – and other members of the pan democratic camp – will be prepared to consider in an adult way our obligation to enact legislation required to comply with Article 23.
Why do I think the subjects of democracy and national security are linked?
Looking at the twin subjects from the perspective of our central government in Beijing, what is the justification for proceeding with the development of greater democratisation of Hong Kong in accordance with some sections of the Basic Law when LegCo is not prepared to enact national security legislation required by another section? Surely only a community mature enough to implement the latter is fit for the former.
Similarly, as seen from the democratic benches, why should we, how could we, take the risk of proceeding with controversial national security legislation without the safeguard of a fully democratically elected legislature to buttress our free way of life.
Is there scope for a deal here? I think there is but no-one is going to like it very much.
The SAR Government and Beijing are going to have to go further and faster than they might like with the democratisation process. And the pan democrats are going to have to accept that we do need to take up the subject of national security legislation in a serious and solemn way, without recourse to hysteria and whipping up needless public concern.
A bold plan for democracy could get us everything. A feeble plan will get us nothing except the biggest 1 July march in our history and a filibuster that could last for months.
Each side may take some consolation in the words of Mary Poppins: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.