Development of party politics will help support reform after 2017

Frank Ching says Hong Kong needs to enact a political party law and allow the chief executive to be politically active to support reform

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 1:50pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 1:41am

At long last, a Chinese leader has acknowledged the Basic Law's stipulation that the method of selecting the chief executive shall be specified "in the light of the actual situation" in Hong Kong and "in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress".

Zhang Dejiang , the No 3 figure in the Communist Party leadership, took this position in meetings with Hong Kong political leaders from the pro-establishment camp. But saying this is one thing, action is another.

So far, the Chinese government has shown no indication of recognising that the actual situation in Hong Kong has changed in the quarter century since the Basic Law was drafted. Of course, China has existed for millennia and a mere 25 years doesn't mean much. But since the Basic Law only gives "one country, two systems" a lifespan of 50 years, 25 years is a very long time indeed.

Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty today is very different from what it was as a British colony. Under the British, until 1985, there were no elections for Legco. Now, every seat is elected, albeit some elections are more competitive than others.

As a result, political parties appeared, and today the political arena is filled with parties, now that China accepts them in Hong Kong.

But regarding the 2017 election for chief executive, Beijing is ignoring such major changes, insisting instead that the letter of the Basic Law, drafted in the 1980s, be strictly observed.

It is true that civil nomination does not play a major role in most democratic countries. Neither do nominating committees. But almost all democratic societies have political parties, which nominate candidates to run in elections. This is the norm.

China insists on a nominating committee because the Basic Law says so. But the Basic Law asserts that the nomination method must reflect "the actual situation".

It is too late to change the nominating committee's role in 2017. Fortunately, Zhang also said that 2017 will not mark the end of reform.

It is unfortunate that the chief executive's report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee is silent on the role of political parties. But now that Hong Kong has been told that reform will continue after 2017, it has the responsibility to pave the way to future change.

The first step must be to enact a political party law. In its absence, political parties are now registered either as companies or as societies. There needs to be legal recognition of the role of political parties.

Moreover, the current ordinance barring the chief executive from membership of a political party should be scrapped. The law implies that the chief executive is above politics when we all know that that is not the case. Especially after universal suffrage elections are held, the chief executive needs to be very much immersed in politics. Legally barring him from participation is to prevent the development of party politics in Hong Kong, which is a major stumbling block to reform after 2017.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1