Chief executive hopeful John Tsang said Friday that Beijing’s decision in 2014 on Hong Kong’s political reform should be the starting point for future discussions on the issue, making no promise of restarting the reform process.

In 2014, Beijing ruled that a 1,200-member nomination committee would vet chief executive candidates before a popular vote. The decision sparked the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy protests, and the reform package incorporating the decision was eventually voted down in the legislature in 2015. The current administration said that it would not consider restarting the reform process.

Pan-democrats campaign against the government’s political reform package in 2015. File Photo: Civic Party, via Facebook.

During his announcement of his candidacy for chief executive on Thursday, Tsang said he would need to see whether the political situation has changed since 2014 before considering whether to table a new political reform package if he became the city’s next leader.

“If it hasn’t changed, if it remains the same, we are just banging our heads against the wall – that would not serve any purpose. What we must do is to really have a proper dialogue with all the different stakeholders to see if this is the time,” he said.

The former finance chief clarified his position on an RTHK programme on Friday. He said that since Beijing’s decision in 2014 was made by China’s top legislature – the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress – the ruling must be the “basis and starting point” for any discussions on Hong Kong’s political reform.

Asked if he feared that his position might cost him support from the pan-democrats, Tsang said: “I believe everyone will handle the situation rationally. The first step is to get everyone to discuss this issue… We need to have a realistic outlook and decide on our goal.”

John Tsang. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Noting the wide political spectrum in Hong Kong, Tsang said people with different views should be prepared to make compromises and accept that Hong Kong is a diverse society. The first step to achieving this objective is to rebuild trust in society, he added.

‘Too soft’

Tsang’s opponent Woo Kwok-hing criticised Tsang on Thursday for not having a stronger position on political reform.

“John, time to stop slacking off,” the retired judge said. “My strongest impression of your press conference is that you are too soft on the political reform issue and you are not living up to public expectations. You have failed to answer the strong demand for universal suffrage.”

“The first and foremost mission of the post-CY Leung administration is to fully and accurately convey the views of Hongkongers, restart the political reform process and mend the rift in society.”

Woo Kwok-hing. File Photo: Woo Wwok-hing, via Facebook.

Woo previously said that if he became chief executive, his main goal would be to end Hong Kong’s political stalemate by pushing through a political reform package that is acceptable to the majority of society.

Since announcing his candidacy last October, Woo has been meeting with various sectors and political parties to discuss his proposal for expanding the democratic basis of the nomination committee that will be tasked with selecting Hong Kong’s leader.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.