Now, fifteen years later, the question was still nearly the same. There were no elections to positions of power. The unelected Administration had gathered too much power to itself and was reluctant to share it. It had even usurped the title "government". The legislature, part of which was democratically elected, was the government too, but Hong Kong's administration did not see this.
In fact, Hong Kong was governed by a narrow elite, essentially representing the interests of a few tycoons. The Administration would not make a move unless it had business support. On e example was legislation to prohibit racial discrimination in the private sector (the public sector was already covered by the Bill of Rights Ordinance). The Administration did not want to make a move, since the business sector was against it, even though the United Nations had said that legislation must cover all spheres and that Hong Kong was in breach of international covenants. Now the chambers (except the Chinese ones) had changed their minds, and racial discrimination legislation was on the agenda again. The Administration swung to and fro at the call of the business sector.
The functional constituencies were at the heart of this problem; they were controlled by small vested interests. The British had created the functional constituency monster in 1985, one year after the Joint Declaration. It was not merely the narrowness of the constituency but the corporate voting - whoever controlled the companies would control the seat. Patten introduced individual suffrage into the functional constituencies, but Tung reinstated corporate voting.
Businessmen supporting democracy
Yet there were businessmen who saw the need for change. Ms Lau had recently met a businessman who was a convert to the idea of democracy. He saw that in almost 20 years Hong Kong had made no constitutional progress. Others were saying that without democracy Hong Kong risked decline. The truth was that the present Administration was so bad, a gaping black hole, that people were beginning to look for alternatives. Tung had really done more for democracy than Patten had by showing how bad things could be without it. Even Li Ka Shing preferred to invest in democratic countries to dictatorships.
The question was, how to move forward. 2007 was approaching, but the Administration was doing nothing. So she had put her motion to Legco. She knew that it would be defeated, although a similar motion in 2000 had been approved. Even if it were passed, it would not be binding. But it was important for the legislature to express its view. That would make it harder for the government to ignore the public will, and still claim to be accountable.
Someone had said to her that the motion, asking for consultation, was too tame. "Emily," this person had said, "You have lost your fire." But Ms Lau recognised that there were different views in the community, and some people had reservations about democracy. Being democratic meant respecting these different views. The way forward was to discuss these differences, build understanding and seek common ground. The Chief Executive could be democratically elected in 2007, and Legco in 2008. But for this to happen, the public discussion had to begin now.
There were complicated issues to address, and the way to discuss them also needed consideration. One way might be to hold a constitutional convention such as Australia had had to consider whether it should become a republic.
Ms Lau had also raised the issue of constitutional reform with the Constitutional Affairs Panel. The Secretary for Constitutional Affairs said he had nothing to say. The chairman also objected to the topic: why raise it if the Administration is not ready? he had said. She had asked for a vote, and her proposal was defeated by four votes to three. So what did that mean, asked Ms Lau? Did it mean matters could only be discussed if the Administration agreed to them? Or was raising difficult issues equated with "bad-mouthing" the government? The crux of the matter was that the Administration was incompetent and was doing nothing to help Hong Kong. If the people were given the vote they would throw the Administration out.
Would she stand for Chief Executive if given the chance? Ms Lau thought the more important thing was to have an open democratic process that would let whoever wanted to stand to have the opportunity, and the voters the opportunity to choose between the candidates. As for her own potential candidacy, she did not know. If there were a good group with a good platform who wanted her to stand, she might consider it. But the key thing was to secure the reforms for Hong Kong that would make it possible for the people to choose their own government.
The policies of the Administration were increasingly divisive. Taking the maid's levy as an example, the principle should be universally applied - everyone at a given salary level should pay a levy. Why single out the maids? The principle was odious, and who knew which group might be singled out next time? Hong Kong people did not value the Filipina maids, but although they could employ locals they did not want to: the truth was that the maids made a valuable contribution to Hong Kong. Her own mother had been a live-in amah, Ms Lau recalled.
 In the event, Ms Lauís original motion was defeated.
The above does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation.
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