Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

CE runners must clarify positions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 2012, 12:00am

Campaign platforms are crucial in elections. They set out the visions of the candidates standing for public office. They are the promises made to the voters in return for their support. The chief executive election is less than three months away. While only 1,200 people are eligible to vote, there is much public interest in the plans of the candidates. So far, they have tended to make comments in a piecemeal manner. It will be good to see more concrete policy platforms being rolled out as the election draws near. Hong Kong is facing a host of challenges. It is therefore important that the candidates offer bold and feasible solutions.

Housing and population policy have been areas they have focused on, which is understandable given the community's concerns about these issues. But one of the biggest challenges the new leader will face is constitutional development. Beijing has promised universal suffrage can be introduced by 2017 and 2020 for the chief executive and Legislative Council elections respectively. But there is still much work to be done. What form will the new system take? How democratic will it be? How can it improve governance? It will be up to the new chief executive to hammer out the details in the coming years, taking into account the Basic Law requirements and internationally recognised principles.

The two front runners, Leung Chun-ying and Henry Tang Ying-yen, have been evasive when asked about their plans. Issues that are crucial to effective governance, such as the development of party politics and the future governing model, are also not on their agenda yet.

The purpose of having a popular vote is to ensure that the future leader is a genuine choice of the people. The Basic Law says the ultimate aim is universal suffrage upon nomination by a nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures. Every effort has to be made to ensure that the procedures will not turn into a de facto screening mechanism which excludes all but a few deemed acceptable to the authorities. Ultimately, the choice should be with the voters.

Getting the chief executive election right in 2017 is only half of the mission. The question of how the legislature should move towards universal suffrage is even more challenging. Half of the seats are in functional constituencies, which are confined to a small fraction of the community.

Whether those seats should be scrapped, or reformed to make them compatible with the government's promise of 'universal and equal suffrage', is one of the big decisions the new chief executive will have to make. We look forward to hearing more from the candidates on their policy programmes. The sooner they make their position on constitutional development clear, the better.