Chris Yeung: Prepping the next battleground

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June 17th is already history. Moderate and radicals are all planning their next attack. The pro-establishment may be divided on CY’s second term.

 

With no sign of an eleventh-hour change of mind of a handful of pan-democratic legislators needed for the passage of the government’s 2017 universal suffrage blueprint, there is a marked shift of attention among political players in the agenda of post-reform Hong Kong.

 

Eyes on the horizon

Even before the three key mainland officials in charge of reform held their showdown meetings with legislators in Shenzhen on May 31, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had already called on members and society at large to concentrate on economic and livelihood issues if the reform drive ended nowhere.

In the Shenzhen meeting, head of the central government’s Liaison Office, Zhang Xiaoming, warned that legislators who voted down the blueprint, thus depriving the right of five million eligible voters to elect their chief executive, would have to pay at the ballot box.

He was echoing a call by Leung earlier for voters to punish pan-democratic legislator in the November District Council election and the 2016 Legislative Council elections. Asked about what can be done to the defiant democrats at a business conference, Leung said: “Vote them out.”

Meanwhile, a group of moderates and some university student bodies have given an early indication of their next steps in the face of the imminent electoral reform fiasco.

 

Jaw-jaw, burn-burn, write-write

Led by Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a think tank, the Path of Democracy, was inaugurated on June 8. It aims to find a “third road” in political reform and ease tension in the mainland-Hong Kong relations.

In a speech delivered at the June 4 candle-light vigil, a representative of the City University student union led three other university students’ unions to burn a copy of the Basic Law with a vow to fight for a re-drafting of the mini-constitution. Also last week, the convenor of Scholarism, a secondary school students’ body, Joshua Wong, said they would explore the idea of “all-people drafting of constitution (全民制憲)” in the post-reform era.

The diverse thinking of what should be done in the post-reform era has given an early glimpse of the depth and complexity of uncertainty besetting our city, regardless of the outcome of  the vote on the electoral package scheduled for June 17.

A passage of the electoral blueprint looks almost impossible now in view of the firm opposition of the pan-democrats and public for-and-against numbers about equal, hovering around the  40 percent mark (43% as of June 11), according to various opinion polls. If –  a big if –  it is passed, it will certainly ignite another massive Occupy protest around the Legco building. How it will unfold is anybody’s guess.

It is therefore ironical that a vetoing of the reform proposal, which could result in another “small-circle” chief executive election in 2016, might indeed bring peace, albeit in the short-run. When the government blueprint is voted down, the pan-democratic camp will find it difficult to mobilise the people with a new, immediate demand.

 

New battlegrounds

True, there will be fresh calls for the government to re-launch the “five-step” political reform process. But realistically, the chance of a second reform attempt in the remaining term of Leung is razor-thin.

The demand for genuine universal suffrage will be turned into an election campaign issue for the pan-democrats in the District and Legislative Council elections.

The pro-establishment, pro-Beijing camp will also play up the universal suffrage issue, but in a totally different way. They will be getting ammunition from the central and Hong Kong governments in a joint massive propaganda warfare effort aimed to blame the democrats for scuttling the maiden “one person, one vote” for the chief executive in 2017.

The message will be clear and straight-forward. By voting the democrats out in the legislature, the city will be back on the right track with progress on universal suffrage and end of filibustering in the legislature.

With nearly half supporting the 2017 universal suffrage plan, the pan-democrats face a danger of losing their moderate supporters when election time rolls around. They will have to switch to crisis mode, warning of dire consequences if the government lacks effective checks and balances by dissident voices in the legislature.

The pan-democrats have warned the government would be able to do everything it likes if the loyalist factions get more than two-thirds of seats in the legislature. Legislation on Basic Law Article 23, suspended in the wake of the 2003 July 1 rally, will certainly be resumed and enacted, they said.

In a nutshell, the two sets of polls in November and next year will be defined by the pan-democrats as a battle of survival.

 

Non-cooperation

Against that backdrop, it is beyond belief that the pan-democrats will be kind to Leung and dance to his tune, put aside political disputes and make a joint effort to do catch-up work on the economic and livelihood fronts.

Although the so-called “non-cooperation” campaign mounted by the pan-democrats against the Leung team last year has inflicted no serious harm, they will no doubt make it doubly difficult for the government to score points in the next two years. Their goal is simple and clear: stop Leung from getting five more years.

 

Pro-establishment support for CY wobbly

One popular line of thinking among the pro-establishment camp is that Leung will emerge as the biggest winner in the electoral reform fiasco as he will certainly be re-elected under the 1,200-member Election Committee system. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the New People’s Party has said she would not contest if the same election committee system is applied in 2017, knowing her chance of success is slim. Former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung holds similar views.

In view of the depth of anxiety, if not fear, in some quarters of the pro-establishment camp about Leung’s rule, it is too early to say Leung will be re-elected uncontested.

More importantly, Beijing will have to fully assess the city’s post-reform scene and the upside and downside of giving Leung five more years, among other issues.

Hardliners may think Leung is the right man to lead the battle against the rapid growth of “localism” and pro-independence” sentiments in the city. But pragmatists and moderates may argue the heightened political tension across the border has proved the hardened approach of Leung and Beijing towards Hong Kong is a failure. A change of tact – and leadership – is therefore needed to help restore peace and harmony.

The protracted political reform battle may soon come to an end. A fresh round of political tussles has begun in earnest.