Pan-Democrats Need a Policy Overhaul or Risk Irrelevance

The failure of the pan-democratic group to achieve veto power in Legco following the elections on 11 March has prompted calls among members for a review of tactics. They cite a failure to properly justify to the public their confrontational tactics when dealing with the Hong Kong Government.

Such a review will barely scratch the surface of their problems. It will instead contribute materially to the group’s future irrelevance.

Their greatest blunder to date was to defeat the Government Bill that under the terms of Article 45 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law would have created a wider but not universal voting franchise for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.

Foolishly, they overestimated their negotiating power with the Beijing Government and assumed the Bill was part of a longer term debate about ‘universal suffrage’ rather than the one-off, take it or leave it opportunity it proved to be.

The political landscape has changed materially since that defeat and in ways that make the pan-democratic focus – almost to the exclusion of other issues – on ‘universal suffrage’ irrelevant.

The trend for Beijing to take firmer control of Hong Kong has been evidenced by incidents such as the booksellers and more recently by the Beijing interpretation of the Basic Law validating the Mainland policing of parts of the new Kowloon rail terminal – an interpretation that has baffled many constitutional lawyers.

Hong Kong’s government will be introducing sedition legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law long before the reintroduction, if it ever occurs at all, of legislation under Article 45. The pan-dems’ version of universal suffrage is a cause they have lost.

In these circumstances, the pan-democratic group should focus on two fronts: first, a broader, principled defence of Hong Kong’s values, such as the freedom of speech and assembly and, above all, the rule of law. This should entail a more constructive approach in Lego rather than constant outrage, whining and protesting.

Secondly, their respect for these values should be accompanied by a broad manifesto covering social issues that are of concern – housing, education, poverty to name only a few – to Hong Kong people.

Achieving this will be difficult. First, Legco generally lacks political and administrative talent. Secondly, the nature of the pan-democratic group makes the generation and agreement of detailed policies challenging.

If the pan-democrats fail to meet the challenge, one may wonder what happens thereafter.

Among senior members and leaders of Hong Kong’s political parties there are three interesting politicians. In no particular order they are Nathan Law, Joshua Wong and Regina Ip.

The first two possess exceptional skills and talent for their age. What sort of leaders they become in the future is unclear. They will be more interesting when they move away from the fringes of separatism to less radical themes.

Regina Ip is of interest for her longevity and her ability to reinvent herself.

After time in the United States subsequent to her failure under Tung Chee-hwa to introduce Article 23 legislation, she founded a think tank and a political party. She has extraordinary staying power and great experience.

When lesser figures fade away, controversial though she may be, we may all be cheering for Regina.

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