- The city has not given up on democracy and that is why universal suffrage soon became one of the core demands when the momentum to fight the extradition bill escalated, but there has to be give and take
Whoever thinks Hong Kong has given up on democracy in the wake of the ill-fated political reform in 2015 should take a closer look at the city's development over the past seven months. From renewing calling for universal suffrage in mass protests to voting out pro-Beijing politicians in the district council polls, the clamour for a greater say in public affairs is unequivocal. But while it is difficult for the government to continue to dodge the pressure to launch further reform, democratic aspirations alone will not yield a breakthrough. For progress to be made, there needs to be give and take.
It can be argued that democracy has little to do with the city's extradition bill fiasco, in which waves of mass protests were held to fight the blueprint that would have enabled the transfer of fugitives to places with no extradition agreement with the city, including the mainland and Taiwan. But the discontent stems from inadequate political participation and influence over government decisions, an issue left behind by the political reform that also triggered the 79-day Occupy protests in 2014. The civil disobedience movement failed to push Beijing for greater electoral freedoms. The framework imposed by the state legislature was deemed too restrictive by the pan-democrats and failed to secure enough support for implementation.
The public was disappointed, but not despaired. That is why universal suffrage soon became one of the core demands when the momentum to fight the extradition bill escalated. According to a recent survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, respondents rated constitutional reform as the most pressing issue, surpassing housing and the economy for the first time in years.
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Whether Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will heed the call remains to be seen. Seven months have passed but Lam's responses are not forthcoming, and she is apparently only prepared to appoint an independent review to look into the "deep-seated issues" that have contributed to the ongoing unrest.
Understandably, Lam cannot relaunch the reform without Beijing's endorsement. Even with the green light, the way forward remains uncertain. The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office has made clear that the electoral framework laid down by the National People's Congress Standing Committee in 2014 must be followed no matter when the reform is launched. But the restrictions " such as forming a panel to nominate only two to three chief executive candidates before putting to a popular vote " have been dismissed by the pan-democrats as fake universal suffrage. With society even more divided than before, a consensus is difficult to reach. Compromise is necessary if we are to make progress.
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