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Martin Lee isn’t buying what’s on CY Leung’s menu (video).

CY’s five easy models aren’t fooling Basic Law drafters like Martin Lee. And the Democrats are cracking up.

It was all quiet on the news front during the Easter/Ching Ming Festival holiday break. But two news stories relating to political reform have caused disquiet in the political scene, giving more signs that public opinion battle over Beijing’s “8.31” universal suffrage model is heating up.

Defending the electoral framework decreed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on August 31 last year, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying played the “Basic Law history card” to argue against the idea of public nomination for the 2017 chief executive vote. It was a card not well played.

Five easy pieces

Speaking at an official celebration marking the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Basic Law on April 4, he cited the five electoral models for chief executive election set out in a document published by the then Basic Law Consultative Committee for public consultation during the drafting process.

Leung, who was secretary general of the consultative body, has claimed the idea of public nomination, now championed by the pan-democratic camp, was nowhere to be seen in the 1988 document. He urged people “not to forget the original intent” of the Basic Law, which stipulated the formation of a broadly-represented nominating committee to pick candidates for the universal suffrage for the Chief Executive.

‘economical with the truth

“Among the five [models], two were for universal suffrage, but none of them was about public nomination… And no one said we could have no genuine universal suffrage without public nomination,” Leung said

Hold the models

Leung’s claim was immediately dismissed by a former Basic Law drafter Martin Lee Chu-ming as “factually wrong.” Of the five models, one featured nominations by 50 citizens, Lee said, citing information from the document. Under the proposal, candidates would be voted by a 600-strong electoral college.

Although Leung later clarified the two short-listed universal suffrage models contained no public nomination, his attempt to shore up support for the “8.31” framework by shooting down the democrats’ public nomination idea back-fired.

“Wong, Tik and Law represent a sizeable, long-lasting stream in the pan-democratic force that insists on a pragmatic, flexible and less confrontational tactic in the long-running tussle with the ruling Chinese Communist Party

He was roundly criticised by pan-democrats for being economical with the truth, or, more bluntly, telling lies.

If Leung hoped to boost public support for Beijing’s plan by killing pan-democrats’ public nomination idea, his misrepresentation of facts has handed an own goal to his opponents. But by design or by default, another development unfolded during the holiday break may compensate for Leung’s loss in his misfire.

Cracking up

An open appeal by a former Democrat legislator Wong Sing-chi for colleagues to back the “8.31” decision has laid bare the truth that the rift within the pan-democratic camp, in particular its flagship Democratic Party, over political reform is widening.

In an article published on the Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Journal last week, Wong, who sits on the Democratic Party’s central committee, has called on his fellow colleagues to back the NPC Standing Committee model despite its imperfections.

Wong has insisted the chief executive who is screened by the nominating committee and returned by popular votes “would not be any worse than [incumbent] Leung Chun-ying.”

Wong’s argument, which is in line with the theory of “pocket first” and game play of “kick out Leung by popular vote,” is hardly new. That it came from a core Democratic party member at a time when political reform enters the most critical stage, and signs of cracks within the pan-democratic camp are surfacing, is intriguing.

“ugly infighting seems to have little impact in deterring the moderates

More important, Wong’s remarks seem to be a curtain-raiser to a concerted effort by the moderates in the party and the pan-democratic camp to mobilise the masses to back Beijing’s electoral plan.

Earlier, a founding member of the Democratic Party Tik Chi-yuen has become the first pan-democrat to openly support the “8.31” model. He argued pan-democrats have no right to deprive the right of voters to elect their chief executive.

Speaking in the same breath last month, a core Democrat Law Chi-kong has called on fellow allies to fight for “every inch of land” in the battle for democracy. “If we do not have progress today, tomorrow will be hopeless.”

Wong may be dismissed by fellow democrats as a yesterday’s man following his defeat in the 2012 Legislative Council election. But Wong, Tik and Law represent a sizeable, long-lasting stream in the pan-democratic force that insists on a pragmatic, flexible and less confrontational tactic in the long-running tussle with the ruling Chinese Communist Party over democracy.

Those moderate voices quietened down after Beijing imposed a set of harsh restrictions over the 2017 chief executive elections, including a higher-than-expected threshold for aspirants to become candidate. Candidates need the nominations of over half of the nominating committee to be eligible for the race.

When political tensions worsened following the eruption of the Occupy Central, they had understandably kept their heads low. The failure of Occupy has dealt a heavy blow to the radicals and mainstream pan-dems, giving fresh room for the moderates to be back to the game.

The recent chorus of voices in support of “pocket first” has set the stage of the final phase of public opinion battle.

Take it or…

With no sign of any substantive concessions by Beijing on the 2017 universal suffrage arrangement, the debate looks set to boil down to the choice of “take it or leave it.”

Polls show public opinion towards the “8.31” framework, since it was announced, has been largely consistent, with the views for and against it almost evenly split. Voices in support of “pocket first” emerged from within the pan-democratic camp may give a helping hand to the government in its propaganda warfare in the next three months.

In a swift act of damage control, the Democratic Party issued a statement shortly after Wong’s article was published they stood firmly against “8.31” blueprint. They reiterated their position that Beijing should withdraw the blueprint and restart the five-step political reform process. A group of Democrats have also called for disciplinary action against Wong for departing from the party line on political reform.

The emergence of ugly infighting seems to have little impact in deterring the moderates from coming out to challenge the pan-democrats’ vow to veto the political reform blueprint, which could be announced as early as later this month.

Divide and conquer

In view of the wide gulf between people’s expectation and Beijing’s “8.31” framework, it looks unlikely that public support for it will rise sharply. But when people are faced with no other option but one between “8.31” or nothing at the final round of reform battle, the advocacy of Wong Sing-chi and the likes may win more followers.

Judging from the latest developments, the political reform plan still looks set to be voted down. But the ripples over Wong’s remarks show the undercurrents in the pan-democratic camp may cause more waves – and uncertainties – in the next few months.