A litmus test of our democracy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am


While the race to become Hong Kong's next chief executive has caught the public's imagination, the election of the 1,200 people who actually get to vote for our next leader has not.

Fewer than one in 25 of the city's seven million people have the privilege of voting in the polls to form the Election Committee. With many of the seats filled without a fight, the ballot is open to just 237,000 people. Clearly, this is not a democratic election - nor was it ever intended to be. The process should, nonetheless, be clean and fair. Recently uncovered abuses of the voter registration mechanism have weakened confidence in our electoral system. People have been arrested on suspicion of fraud following the district council polls held last month. There are concerns that the problem will rear its head again in today's Election Committee polls.

The way the electorate of the Election Committee vote is drawn up has long been recognised as arbitrary and askew. Some organisations are enfranchised through their membership of trade associations, but the eligibility of others appears questionable. For instance, an academic society for pest management and the University of Hong Kong's business faculty can vote in the commercial sector because they are members of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce; some people eligible to vote in the information technology sector have long ceased to be members of a professional body. It is also common to see influential members of the business community amass multiple 'corporate' votes through their subsidiaries in different sectors. Some foreign government offices are even eligible to vote.

It would be nice to think that these problems will go away when universal suffrage is introduced for the election of the chief executive in 2017. But that may not be the case. Candidates for that election will still need to be selected by a 'broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures', as this is a requirement of the Basic Law. How such a committee is to be formed will be a challenge for the new administration. It will become a litmus test of how democratic our electoral system will be.

Whatever form it takes, the committee should be constituted in a fair, transparent and democratic way. The purpose of introducing universal suffrage is to ensure Hong Kong's leader is a genuine choice of the people. The committee must not be allowed to become a screening mechanism which excludes all but a small number of candidates seen as acceptable to Beijing. Hopefully today's poll for the Election Committee, with all its flaws, will be the last of its kind. Every effort must be made to ensure that the elections to be held from 2017 onwards are - as promised - democratic.