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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09HONGKONG2264
2009-12-11 12:07:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Consulate Hong Kong
Cable title:  

HONG KONG CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM: END OF THE

Tags:   PGOV  PHUM  CH  HK 
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VZCZCXRO3618
PP RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHHK #2264/01 3451207
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 111207Z DEC 09
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9158
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HONG KONG 002264 

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/CM; ALSO FOR DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/11/2019
TAGS: PGOV PHUM CH HK
SUBJECT: HONG KONG CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM: END OF THE
BEGINNING OR BEGINNING OF THE END?

REF: (A) HONG KONG 2234 (B) HONG KONG 2125

Classified By: Acting Consul General Christopher Marut for reasons 1.4(
b) and (d)



1. (C) Summary: The various forces in Hong Kong's debate on
constitutional reform have taken their positions on the
field. A motion in the Legislative Council (LegCo) calling
on the people of Hong Kong to support the League of Social
Democrats' (LSD) and Civic Party's resignation-as-referendum
plan failed December 9. However, the LSD and the Civics have
declared they will proceed with their plan to have five
members resign from LegCo to use the resulting by-elections
as a "referendum" on the government's proposed constitutional
reforms (ref B). Former Chief Secretary Anson Chan, seen as
the one person who might have walked the Civics back, has
formally endorsed the resignation plan. The plan has not
gained substantial support from the general public, has been
derided as a pointless waste of public funds by the
government and the pro-Beijing establishment and, crucially,
lacks the backing of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile,
supporters of the idea that LegCo's sectoral functional
constituencies (FC) could be made compatible with a version
of universal suffrage will no doubt rejoice in a High Court
ruling that FCs are not incompatible with the Basic Law. We
reckon the formal battle for the support of the people of
Hong Kong will begin with the pan-democrats January 1 march
in support of universal suffrage, with the resignations to be
announced sometime after mid-January. End summary.



2. (C) Comment: While the Hong Kong government and, we
believe, Beijing, would prefer not to see the
resignation-as-referendum plan go forward, they seem
unwilling to make the substantive concessions that might
either put off the Civics or win over the Democratic Party.
Most observers doubt that even a five-seat win by the LSD and
the Civics would sway Beijing, and hope instead to draw
international attention. We believe the United States cannot
take a position on the mechanisms used to implement universal
suffrage without being seen as taking a partisan "side" and
therefore "meddling" in Hong Kong's internal affairs.
However, particularly as forces within Hong Kong are seeking
to distort basic concepts such as "one man, one vote," we
believe reiterating the U.S position on HK's democratic
development is vital given our obligations under the Hong
Kong Policy Act. Septel will outline core points we
recommend be deployed on this issue. End comment.



--------------------------


Gauntlet Thrown


--------------------------





3. (C) League of Social Democrats (LSD) leader Raymond Wong
Yuk-man tabled a motion in the Legislative Council (LegCo)
December 9 calling on "all people in Hong Kong to fully

support the campaign of 'resignation en masse of Members
returned from five geographical constituencies as a
referendum on the fight for dual universal suffrage in
2012.'" Recognizing Beijing has already declared universal
suffrage in 2012 a non-starter, Civic Party Vice Chair Alan
Leong Kah-kit moved an amendment which replaced "universal
suffrage in 2012" with the (undated) goal of "genuine
universal suffrage and the abolition of functional
constituencies." The LSD voted in favor of this amendment,
perhaps the first time they have been willing to go on record
as supporting anything less than universal suffrage in 2012,
and also the first concrete gesture they have made in support
of their unlikely alliance with the Civics. Confederation of
Trade Unions legislator Lee Cheuk-yan told us the Democratic
Party (DPHK) was not willing to explicitly concede 2012, and
voted as a bloc against the amendment. Lee reported
pan-democratic caucus convener Cyd Ho Sau-lan abstained for
the same reason. The final vote on the original motion
failed, with the DPHK abstaining as a bloc. Formalizing his
much-discussed break with his colleagues, the Civics' Ronny
Tong Ka-wah chose to absent himself from the voting. Despite
the loss and Tong's opposition, the LSD and the Civics have
made clear they will proceed with the resignation plan.



--------------------------


Chan Backs the Plan


--------------------------





4. (C) The LSD and the Civics picked up a key endorsement
December 10 from former Chief Secretary and legislator Anson
Chan Fong An-sang. In her December 10 statement, Chan
declared that "the moment of truth" had been reached, and
called on the pan-democrats to support the resignation plan.
She urged the pan-democrats to put aside considerations of
individual gain and loss and to trust in the will of the

HONG KONG 00002264 002 OF 004


people to strive for democracy. She also derided the
government as "totally insincere" and its consultation
document as "a step backwards." Media quoted Chan dismissing
concerns that the resignations might cost the pan-democrats
their "blocking minority" -- enough votes to deny the
government the two-thirds majority needed to change the Basic
Law. What good would another veto do? she asked.



5. (C) Chan was part of a coalition of senior democratic
statesman, including DPHK founder Martin Lee Chu-ming, Next
Media publisher Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, commentator Allen Lee
Peng-fei, and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who were
reportedly instrumental in winning over the Civics' leader
Audrey Eu Yuet-mee. In recent weeks, however, both Martin
Lee and Allen Lee have been quoted as expressing misgivings.
Chan's own statements had been limited to supporting "true
universal suffrage" and unity among the pan-democrats. Chan
confidante Allen Lee told us Chan still had her doubts, but
felt the train was leaving the station and she therefore had
to chose a side. Interestingly, Lee felt Audrey Eu might
have heeded Chan's doubts, but by this point had herself
already made too many public statements in favor of the
resignation plan and was thus "stuck."



6. (C) Ronny Tong agreed that elder statesmen might have
influenced Audrey Eu, and he was sure only Anson Chan could
have walked Eu back. That said, he did not think this group
was the strongest force pushing the Civics. He described
Civic Party General Secretary Kenneth Chan Ka-lok as a
"radical" who became enamored of the LSD's resignation plan.
Chan convinced legal sector legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee
(who has been identified to us by others as the most radical
of the Civics' legislators). Ng in turn convinced Alan
Leong, whom Tong scorned as seeking to become either a
democratic hero or a democratic martyr as a way to position
himself for a second run for Chief Executive in 2012. Leong
then convinced Eu, who was also being courted by the elders,
and some combination of the two forces led to the Civics
endorsing the plan.



7. (C) The LSD corroborated this in part. LSD Vice Chair
Andrew To Kwan-hang told us that the resignation plan was
Leung "Long Hair" Kwok-hung's brain-child that the LSD
leadership sold to the party from the top down. For the
Civics, To contended, the opposite occurred: younger members
at the grass roots had agitated for the leadership to support
the plan. Indeed, Kenneth Chan himself, who initially
expressed reservations to us about the plan, warned that Hong
Kong was seeing a rise in disaffected youth willing to drop
out of politics wholesale in favor of anti-system protests.
Young Civics who lose faith in the party do not defect to the
ideologically similar DPHK, he told us, they either go to the
LSD or they drop out of the system.



--------------------------


Sizing up the Windmill


--------------------------





8. (C) The LSD and the Civics face three obstacles as they
prepare for their by-elections. First is the support of
their putative allies. The DPHK will put the resignation
plan to a formal vote at their general meeting December 13,
but with every major leader except Martin Lee protege James
To Kun-sun publicly against it, the DPHK is expected to
reject participation. That said, the DPHK has pledged they
will use their party machine to support their pan-democratic
allies should they run. The DPHK's grass-roots networks,
which the Civics lack, will be vital in getting out the vote.
Allen Lee judged that the DPHK will lose either way. If the
Civics and the LSD are defeated, pan-democrats will ask why
the DPHK did not support them enough. If they win, both
parties will gain in future elections at the expense of the
DPHK. CTU's Lee told us that, while he does not like the
plan, he feels the need to go along in the name of
pan-democratic solidarity. Whether these "we disagree, but
we're with you in spirit" gestures will inspire the general
public remains to be seen; CTU's Lee called the current
division among pan-democrats "embarrassing."



9. (C) The second issue is whether the individual candidates
can win, and even the parties themselves have their doubts.
The lucky five are:

Hong Kong Island: Tanya Chan Shuk-chong (Civics)
Kowloon West: Raymond Wong Yuk-man (LSD)
Kowloon East: Alan Leong Kah-kit (Civics)
New Territories West: Leung "Long Hair" Kwok-hung (LSD)
New Territories East: Albert Chan Wai-yip (LSD)

The LSD's Andrew To felt Alan Leong, Long Hair and Albert

HONG KONG 00002264 003 OF 004


Chan all might be vulnerable. He believed Long Hair could
normally count on a maximum of about fifteen percent of the
vote -- not enough to carry the constituency alone. To was
concerned about Albert Chan as well, but was comforting
himself with Chan's gut feeling he would win, which To
accepted because Chan has never lost an election. The
Civics' Tong concurred that these three candidates were all
weak, as have other observers. Tong cited in particular
polling data that New Territories East voters had little
interest in the referendum. In that regard, the LSD's To
felt the very public arguments between the Civics and LSD on
one side and DPHK elder Szeto Wah on the other were actually
valuable, since the press coverage was attracting public
interest.



10. (C) The third challenge will be agreeing on a single
question for the "referendum." Tong saw this as the LSD's
and the Civics' greatest obstacle. The LSD are calling for
both the Chief Executive and all of LegCo to be elected by
universal suffrage in 2012, Tong explained, while the Civics
want a clear roadmap to true universal suffrage elections in
2017 (Chief Executive) and 2020 (LegCo). To agreed this was
a problem, but assured us the LSD and the Civics were "close"
to reaching an agreed wording. Timing is another issue still
under debate, with the earliest possible announcement of the
resignations coming in mid-January.



--------------------------


The Immovable Object


--------------------------





11. (C) While a number of our contacts have suggested both
the Hong Kong government and Beijing would prefer to avoid
this "referendum," no one we've spoken with believes Beijing
will be swayed even by a five-for-five win by the
pan-democrats. Even the plan's supporters seem to be banking
more on the international attention their action will draw
than the direct impact on Beijing. From its side, Beijing
seems unwilling to make any gesture, such as a clear
statement on how it defines universal suffrage or on the fate
of the FCs, which might either dissuade the Civics or win
over the DPHK. Pro-Beijing contacts have told us dialogue
with the pan-democrats is continuing, but the pan-democrats
have told us their interlocutors are not decision-makers.
Allen Lee told us Beijing has probably already offered
everything it was willing to offer, leaving the Hong Kong
government to sell a "take it or leave it" proposal. If the
pan-democrats lose their blocking minority, Lee said, Beijing
comes out ahead.



12. (C) For now, the Hong Kong government, along with the
pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong
Kong (DAB) and "independent" Priscilla Leung Mei-fun have
condemned the resignation plan as a waste of time and money
(estimated at HK$150 million, or over US$19 million). Both
the DAB and the Liberal Party have said that they will
contest any seats opened by resignation, and both have
well-known (if not overwhelmingly popular) candidates to run.
Speaking during the LegCo debate December 9, Secretary for
Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung also
stated that there was no scope under the Basic Law for
holding a referendum as part of the constitutional reform
process.



--------------------------


Mortal Wound?


--------------------------





13. (C) Meanwhile, the battle against the FCs suffered a
significant defeat in court December 10 (see ref A). High
Court Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung ruled that corporate
voting -- votes cast by heads of corporation or by
associations in the FCs -- was consistent with the Basic Law
as drafted. Both lead counsel Gladys Li Chi-hei and HKU law
professor and barrister Simon Young (protect both throughout)
told us the decision essentially placed the FCs outside the
scope of Basic Law Article 26 (which grants all citizens an
equal right to vote and be elected). By our read, Justice
Cheung has embraced the government's argument that Article 26
was satisfied by the grant of an equal vote and right to run
for office of all permanent residents in the geographic
constituencies. That said, the Justice ruled the Article 26
argument to be "respectable" and did not order the applicants
to pay the government's costs because the case was of public
interest.



14. (C) Justice Cheung explicitly chose not to comment on
issues of universal suffrage writ large, or on whether FCs
are or could be made compliant with universal suffrage.
Nevertheless, if anyone comes out ahead on this ruling, both

HONG KONG 00002264 004 OF 004


barrister Li and HKU's Young think it will be the
establishment, who can point to the Court's finding that FCs
and corporate voting are constitutional.
MARUT