Democrats have been rebuffed in efforts to get involved in top-level talks on political reform for Hong Kong.
With trust in both Beijing and the Hong Kong government dropping precipitously, according to the latest Hong Kong University poll, mainland politicians are staging yet another consultation on political reform, but the democrats are off the guest list.
Pro-democracy lawmakers formally sought an invitation to the ``preparatory conference'' with representatives of the National People's Congress Standing Committee starting today in Shenzhen to discuss Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's political reform report in advance of its formal approval next week. But they were apparently rebuffed.
``I just don't understand why,'' Democrat Party legislator James To said. ``The only explanation must be that they are ignoring public opinion.''
Academics and other analysts say the Shenzhen meeting is the latest in a series of scripted events being used by Beijing to control the pace and form of political change in Hong Kong.
There is no role for the democrats in Shenzhen, analysts say, since the NPC has already made up its mind on how to proceed. ``In the past few days, Beijing and the liaison office in Hong Kong have made noises'' that universal suffrage is not on the cards, said City University senior lecturer Sung Lap-kung. ``They therefore invited some conservative figures for this meeting ... to make sure the voice was in line with the declaration the NPC will produce after it scrutinises Tung's report.''
There had been something of a thaw in relations between democrats and Beijing recently. On March 31, three democratic lawmakers were granted an audience with a senior official at the Central Government Liaison Office.
When NPC Deputy Secretary-General Qiao Xiaoyang was in Hong Kong last week to discuss Beijing's interpretation of Basic Law provisions on electoral procedures, he met with, and even took questions from, an audience that included democrats. The events were an unprecedented - and largely cordial - detente between two groups that rarely speak to each other.
But on Monday the skirmish began again in earnest when the democrats sent a letter to Qiao requesting another sit down in Shenzhen this week to discuss halting NPC approval of Tung's report. The lawmakers and other critics have said Tung's reform report amounts to an impassable barrier to change pushed through without sufficient public input.
Meanwhile, to judge from the latest poll on trust in government, public opinion may be on the side of critics.
On the eve of the two-day meeting, a survey found public trust in the SAR government slipped by six percentage points to 28 per cent, while trust in the Beijing government dropped by five percentage points to 38 per cent - the lowest since last October when figures stood at 25 per cent and 37 per cent.
The poll, conducted by the University of Hong Kong, surveyed 1,022 people between April 13 and 16, just after the interpretation of the Basic Law. It found that only 50 per cent of respondents had confidence in ``one country, two systems'', down from 57 per cent in February.
Those with no confidence surged 10 percentage points to 37 per cent - the highest since last June when the figure reached 48 per cent. ``The interpretation of the Basic Law has caused all trust and confidence indicators to drop, especially for people's confidence in one country, two systems and the SAR Government,'' said Robert Chung, director of HKU's Public Opinion Programme.
``If we include the previous drop due to the debate on patriotism initiated by mainland officials, the cumulative effect was a drop of 12 percentage points so far.''
Chung added that both the central and SAR governments ``have paid a big price'' for recent political developments.
As of last night, none of Hong Kong's 22 pro-democracy lawmakers had been invited by the central government liaison office to the Shenzhen parley. It seemed that Article 45 Concern Group member and former Bar Association chairman Alan Leong will replace current Bar chairman Edward Chan at the meeting, the only pro-democrat figure invited.
His attendance, however, is in a personal capacity, he said, and not as a member of the Concern Group.
NPC local deputy Tsang Hin-chi said that he will be there and, despite his pro-government views, will also pass the opposition groups' positions to the standing committee.
Qiao will chair the Shenzhen meeting which is scheduled to hear from local NPC deputies, Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference members and Basic Law Committee members today. Thursday's sessions will be with representatives of the community and the government's reform task force headed by Chief Secretary Donald Tsang. Tung will not attend.
Tsang Hin-chi, the only Hong Kong delegate to the National People's Congress standing committee, said he would fully reflect the views of the local public, including opposition groups, to other NPC members.
He said the time for opposition to Beijing's moves, however, was over and people should accept the decision of the NPC. ``I don't want to see Hong Kong, such a tiny and great place, with its society divided,'' he said.