Hong Kong must pursue a practicable plan for electoral reform
Paul Yip and Sarah Choy say with public expectations running high, Hong Kong needs a practical plan for electoral reform that complies with the Basic Law while ensuring the nominating committee is neither a screening mechanism nor a rubber stamp
Elections are a tool to find people who are suitable for public office through established rules that protect the interests of all, including opposition and minority groups. If properly carried out, elections represent voters' wishes and provide legitimacy for those elected to lead.
With this in mind, we have reviewed the proposals put forward during the consultation on electoral reform, while being attentive to the realities on the ground, and have come up with a practical and achievable plan for Hong Kong in 2017. It complies with the Basic Law, accommodates the interests of different groups and is likely to be accepted by the people.
We have upheld the important principles of legal compliance, and equal, fair and credible election, compromising mainly on the technical details. This is, however, not the "ultimate" solution for electing the chief executive by universal suffrage; there has to be continuous adjustment and improvement in the future as circumstances change and new experience is gained.
In our proposal, the four sectors of the Election Committee would be retained in the nominating committee, but membership would be expanded from the current 1,200 to 1,600, to include all district councillors put forward for direct election by voters from the geographical constituencies in 2015. This would strengthen the nominating committee's electoral base from about 250,000 to almost 3.5 million.
The 500-plus district councillors (some of whom already sit on the Election Committee) and the 35 legislators returned by direct elections in geographical constituencies in 2015 and 2016 respectively would occupy more than a third of the 1,600 seats in the nominating committee, making it more representative and balanced.
Although the other three sectors would still make up a majority, this compromise could help gain a consensus. Individual votes should, as far as practicable, replace corporate voting in the sub-sectors. This would demonstrate the commitment of the administration and Beijing to introducing democratic procedures.
Next, all candidates would have to gain the support or recommendation of 1 per cent of registered voters (which could be lowered if necessary) and obtain votes from at least one-eighth of the nominating committee members, that is, 200 of the 1,600 votes. Each member could cast only one vote. In this way, there would be no more than eight nominated candidates.
At the end of this process, the committee, as an organisation, would officially nominate those who meet these requirements and the candidates would go forward for election by voters in a two-round run-off.
The suggestion of a mandatory requirement for voter support aims to promote public participation and confidence in the nomination process at the outset and reduce the chance of certain candidates enjoying an unfair advantage.
This simple and easy-to-understand proposal adheres to Article 45 of the Basic Law and the interpretation of the National People's Congress Standing Committee that the chief executive is to be elected or nominated by a broadly representative nomination committee, with reference made to the composition of the Election Committee, according to democratic procedures and based on the principle of gradual and orderly progress.
The four sectors in the 2012 Election Committee would become more representative and balanced in the nomination committee. Including directly elected district councillors and abolishing at least some corporate votes would avoid the need for another open election to choose some committee members.
It is also more in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is incorporated in Article 39 of the Basic Law. The covenant states that elections must be free and fair. In that context, this proposal requires the rules of nomination and election to be applied equally and fairly to all candidates.
It should also satisfy those who worry about the role of the nominating committee; it is neither promoted to the role of a screening mechanism for potential candidates, nor relegated to become a "rubber stamp" as it will exercise its power "collectively" in nominating the candidates.
People in Hong Kong have been asking for years for universal suffrage to be implemented, as stipulated by the Basic Law. There is a strong public expectation that the current constitutional reform will introduce genuine universal suffrage with meaningful civil participation.
Any reform package must provide different groups - including the pan-democrats and radicals - with a real chance to run in the election, rather than being screened out by certain arbitrary criteria or unfair means, as long as they meet the nomination requirements.
This is essential to gain public confidence, avoid prolonged argument and an escalation of conflict, get the proposal passed in time by two-thirds of the Legislative Council, reduce the chance for more radical elements to go outside the system to accomplish their goals, and ensure acceptance of the final election result.
It cannot be stressed enough that a low threshold of support from nominating committee members is crucial not only to show real progress but also to ensure that the majority of the committee, which is not directly elected, does not control the nomination results and thus the election outcome.
Considering the current situation, any regression to former ways will be rejected, by the pan-democrats - and most Hongkongers. It would probably result in unrelenting public criticism and confrontation, and may invite a judicial review.
Given the political and legal complexities, introducing universal suffrage to Hong Kong is not easy. But, as people are being given the chance to participate in electing their chief executive in 2017, it's vital that lawmakers, Beijing and the public all act responsibly and decisively to ensure this happens in the best possible way.
Paul Yip is professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong. Sarah Choy is an information professional and researcher whose interests include the history and constitutional development of Hong Kong