SCMP Debate: How could the chief executive nominating committee be more representative?
The SCMP begins a two-part series about the chief executive election in 2017, the most important - and contentious - electoral reform since the implementation of "one country, two systems" in 1997. We ask leading politicians and academics for their views on how the nominating committee should be formed and the best way to nominate candidates.
Q1 How could the nominating committee, that would select chief executive candidates, be more representative of Hong Kong's social, economic and political diversity?
Q2 How many chief executive candidates should the committee nominate? What is the appropriate threshold for candidates to be nominated?
Q3 Which aspects of your reform proposal (if applicable) are open to further negotiation with the Hong Kong and central governments?
The alliance's proposal:
The nominating committee should be "as democratic as it can be"
Public nomination (1 per cent of 3.5 million registered voters, or 35,000 people) or a nominating committee (no threshold offered) or a party which secured 5 per cent or more of the total valid votes in the most recent legislative council election
A1 and A2 The Alliance for True Democracy's basic position is that in the 2017 chief executive election, Hong Kong people should enjoy equal rights in voting, nomination of candidates and being elected. As the Chinese authorities are willing to accept universal suffrage, the nomination process would be crucial in ensuring that the electorate enjoys meaningful choices and that there would be genuine competition in the election. There is a serious concern in the community that Chinese leaders intend to control the list of candidates through political screening. The Alliance for True Democracy proposes a three-track nomination process: civic nomination, nomination by political parties and the subsequent endorsement by the nominating committee. Civic nomination means that a candidate who has secured the signed support of 1 per cent of the electorate, about 35,000 voters, would become a formal candidate. To demonstrate the authority of the nominating committee, the candidacy would be endorsed by it as a matter of formality. Civic nomination would allow unrestricted direct participation of Hong Kong people, who could also use the opportunity to articulate their favoured causes such as environmental protection, racial equality, etc. Civic nomination is perceived as the most effective mechanism against political screening of candidates. Nomination by political parties encourages their development, which is essential to building democracy. The Alliance for True Democracy proposes that any political party or coalition of political parties that has secured 5 per cent of the votes in the most recent Legco direct elections would be qualified to nominate a candidate. The candidacy will be endorsed by the nominating committee. Finally, the alliance would accept selection by the nomination committee as stipulated in the Basic Law. The alliance considers that minor revisions of the existing election method of the election committee to be meaningless. It also believes that the establishment would control a majority in the nominating committee. If the Chinese authorities choose to impose "institutional nomination reflecting the collective will", there is an obvious danger that it would control the entire list of candidates. The alliance proposes two election rounds, if necessary, to ensure that the chief executive would be elected by an absolute majority of the electorate to strengthen his or her legitimacy. If a candidate can secure more than 50 per cent of valid votes in the first round, he or she will be elected. If not, the two candidates winning the most votes would enter a second round. The election method should aid a candidate advocating a moderate platform. As demonstrated in the presidential elections in the United States and Taiwan, candidates have to move to the centre to have a reasonable chance of winning the support of an absolute majority of the electorate. This means that the number of candidates should not be an issue. The alliance's proposal is the only one that has secured majority support in several large, scientific public opinion polls and it won the recent civic referendum organised by Occupy Central.
A3 The alliance will try to promote its proposal until the government releases its electoral plan. The alliance is willing to consider any proposal that meets international standards and that allows genuine choice for the electorate that ensures meaningful competition.
The proposal by 18 academics:
A chief executive hopeful who receives signatures of support from 2 per cent of registered voters, or approximately 70,000 people, would be forwarded to the 1,200-member nominating committee as a possible candidate
A candidate would need the support of one-eighth of nominating committee members
A1 According to the decision of the National People's Congress Standing Committee in 2007, the nominating committee may be formed with reference to the composition of the existing election committee. We propose that if the nominating committee is to be modelled on the framework of the four-sector election committee currently in place, the electoral base of various sub-sectors should be enlarged, including replacing the corporate votes in the first, second and third sectors with individual votes, so as to enhance the overall representation from the nominating committee.
A2 In accordance with Article 45 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that the chief executive shall be returned by universal suffrage "upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures", we propose that the nominating committee shall decide on the nomination of candidates on the basis of "one member, one vote for one candidate". Any potential chief executive candidate who has successfully obtained civic recommendations from no less than 2 per cent of the registered voting population of the geographical constituencies shall be nominated as a chief executive candidate if he or she obtains no less than one-eighth of the votes from the nominating committee. In theory, the nominating committee may choose no more than eight persons as chief executive candidates. Based on the experience of the 2007 and 2012 chief executive elections, by keeping the nomination threshold at one-eighth the members of the nominating committee, worthy candidates of differing political views who enjoy a reasonable level of public support will be able to stand for the chief executive election.
A3 We propose that the electoral base of various sub-sectors of the nominating committee should be enlarged by means of replacing the corporate votes in the first, second and third sectors with individual votes. This is a general reform direction that we believe the Hong Kong and central government should take to enhance overall representativeness of the nominating committee. However, to what extent and how exactly the electoral base of various sub-sectors should be enlarged should be a matter of further discussion.
The FTU's proposal:
The nominating committee would comprise 1,200 to 1,600 members
Each committee member would have up to three votes, and two or three candidates would run in the 2017 election
Candidates would need support from at least half the nominating committee before the public election
A1 FTU believes that it is the general expectation of the public that universal suffrage for the chief executive election through "one person, one vote" should be implemented in 2017. The chief executive election must be implemented in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant decisions of the National People's Congress Standing Committee. Article 45 of the Basic Law and the decisions of the Standing Committee of 2007 clearly state that a broadly representative nominating committee should be formed to nominate candidates to be elected through universal suffrage. The composition of the nominating committee should refer to the existing composition of the election committee's four sectors to ensure balanced participation. The nominating committee could be the same as the election committee, i.e. 1,200 from the four sectors. However, to enhance its participation and public engagement, FTU thinks that the size and composition of the nominating committee could be moderately changed to meet public expectations. FTU proposes that the number of members could grow to 1,600, equally shared between the four sectors. The 100 newly added seats of the third sector should be used to enhance the proportion of labour representation, while the 100 seats of the fourth sector should go to district council members.
A2 The Basic Law and the Standing Committee's decisions have stipulated that a certain number of chief executive candidates should be nominated by the nominating committee. In this regard, FTU considers that the nominating committee should have substantive nomination power that could not be undermined or bypassed. The nominating committee would make organisational nomination in accordance with democratic procedures. FTU also proposes the following mechanism of nomination to realise the principle of democratic procedures. To run, prospective candidates would first get recommendations from 5 per cent of nominating committee members. Each would attach a pledge to uphold the constitution of the People's Republic of China and the Basic Law, and swear allegiance to the HKSAR. That would provide a legal and political basis for the chief executive to discharge his duties. FTU thinks it is natural and essential for the chief executive to love the country and Hong Kong. Indeed, no country would choose a leader who was not patriotic. Prospective candidates would have to receive support from more than half the nominating committee. While each member of the nominating committee would vote by secret ballot, the votes cast by them could not exceed the maximum number of candidates, which should be fixed at two to three.
A3 Currently the 1,200 members of the election committee are elected by the four sectors with a registered voter base of about 238,000. That base could be further broadened to incorporate more representatives from the sectors and to enhance participation from the public. We also believe that 2017 is just a starting point. After the chief executive election by universal suffrage in 2017, we could continue to work on universal suffrage for the Legislative Council. Hence, every step counts in Hong Kong's constitutional development. Hong Kong people will be very disappointed to see no steps forward after waiting for so many years.
A 1,514-member nominating committee would abolish corporate voting and include all directly elected district councillors
Candidates could be nominated by 150 nominating committee members
Voters could rank their choices instead of picking the winner through a simple majority
A1 There are at least three all-important considerations to bear in mind in designing any reform proposal. First, how to make the nominating committee broadly representative. Second, how to improve the quality of governance after universal suffrage is implemented. And third, how to win the support of the central government and pro-establishment elements. The first consideration is easier said than done. Most of the other proposals simply say, "abolish corporate votes". But that is half the answer. How to ascertain and keep track of individual voters in a particular sector? My proposal is the only one with a detailed study to make the nominating committee truly representative. The second consideration is equally if not more important. Under the Basic Law, and in light of current political reality, the chief executive, universally elected or not, must work with a divided and partisan Legislative Council and with Beijing. The primary aim is to design a system that has the best chance of returning not the most popular candidate, but a candidate who's the most acceptable candidate to all. The third consideration is most difficult, but also, perhaps, the most important. Unless one can convince both Beijing and pro-establishment elements, any proposal will be doomed to fail. Beijing wants stability and a chief executive who it can trust. Pro-establishment elements want to at least retain some of their influence. Again, none of the other proposals currently put forward, especially those put forward by the pan-democratic camp, address these two most important points.
A2 I suggest adopting the instant run-off voting system to alleviate Beijing's worries. Such a system would be best for finding a moderate chief executive acceptable to all. I also propose there be a low nominating threshold - between 150 and 200 nominations - so between seven and 10 candidates could be picked by the nominating committee. Between five and seven would most likely be nominated. This would ensure people would have genuine choice and moderates would have the best chance of becoming a candidate. I propose increasing the number of nominating committee members to about 1,500, of which roughly one-third would be returned by the business sector, traditionally the strongest of pro-establishment elements. Another third would be directly elected members of the district councils so that every registered voter in Hong Kong could nominate a candidate of his choice through directly elected councillors. The remaining third of nominating committee members would be returned by professionals, a group traditionally shared by pan-democrats and pro-establishment elements. No single political group could dominate and yet each could freely nominate their candidates.
A3 The make-up of the nominating committee and the nomination threshold are most crucial to my concept of a truly representative nominating committee and an election system which offers the people of Hong Kong a genuine choice.
The proposal by 13 academics:
The nominating committee would include up to 2,400 members, half from the election committee that chose previous chief executives and half popularly elected
A prospective candidate contesting the nominating committee would need the support of 2,500 members of the public, and a certain number of the some 200,000 voters who chose the Election Committee which selected the chief executive in 2012
Up to four candidates would be nominated, with each candidate needing support from at least 20 per cent of the nominating committee
A1 The nominating committee would retain the four election committee sectors to ensure representation of all social, economic and political sectors. A certain percentage of members would be returned through popular ballot. Any eligible voter could run. That would achieve two goals: public participation and greater representation. Other committee members would be elected using the method adopted by the former election committee. To start, 50 per cent would be popularly elected. Enhancing representation of the four sectors starts from Hong Kong’s actual situation. The previous Election Committee despite its imperfections represents part of Hong Kong’s social, economic and political landscape. Total reconstitution fails to recognise its continuing value. The popular ballot approach would inject dynamic responsiveness into the nominating process. It also would meet the preference of some for civic participation in the nomination process. Re-elected nominating committee members would stand as candidates in one of the four sectors, but not in a sub-sector. That would ensure that they represent a broad sector. It would avoid a nomination process that could be easily hijacked by narrowly focused special interests. Committee candidates would seek votes through territory-wide elections. Adding members based in local districts would not be desirable because it would fragment a political system that is already being hijacked by minority interests and becoming increasingly ungovernable. A political democracy dominated by organised minorities fails to deliver the democratic ideal of majority representation. It also fails to respect the interests of those minorities that are not part of the coalition of minorities in power. It will only produce a political system where unstable minority coalitions lord over policy decisions with unpredictable, idiosyncratic policy outcomes. A minority-dominated system is the root cause of all tyrannies. A candidate for popularly elected membership on the nominating committee would first receive endorsements from his sector and then canvass the public to be elected. Endorsement provides legitimacy and the ballot box ensures representation. Such an approach accords with step-by-step democratisation that takes into account Hong Kong’s past history and current situation, improves governance by limiting fragmentation while ensuring diversity through balanced participation, and complies with the provisions of the Basic Law.
A2 Up to four candidates would be nominated with each candidate receiving at least 20 per cent of the votes from the nominating committee.
A3 All elements are open to further negotiation except that the nominating committee with four sectors must be the sole institutional arrangement for nominating candidates for chief executive.
A1 Although Beijing has already laid down the ground rule that the nominating committee must be modelled on the format of the chief executive election committee, there is still leeway for enhancing the representativeness of this exclusive club. First, the proportion between the four existing sectors could be adjusted. One way is to include all district councillors in the fourth sector while keeping the size of the other three sectors intact. As these 400 councillors are all returned by free election on universal suffrage, the representativeness of the nominating committee would instantly be enhanced by this simple stroke. The other measure to be considered would be, as Ronny Tong suggested, to abolish corporate voting. In this way, voting rights can be extended to more than one million voters. A more fundamental change would be to add civic nomination and legislators' nomination into the process. All those who wanted to join the race for chief executive would have to secure a nomination by 10,000 registered voters and 10 legislative councillors before they could be considered by the nominating committee. The latter provision would help strengthen the linkage between the executive and legislative branches. It would ensure that the prospective chief executive would enjoy a platform to extend his collaboration with different factions in the council. Under the current political reality, in which no party has managed to dominate the council, the requirement of 10 legislators would almost certainly ensure that the candidate would be blessed with cross-party endorsement.
A2 The requirement of endorsement by 10 legislators simply confines the number of people that can be tabled for the nominating committee's consideration to a maximum of seven. In reality, the intricacies of factional strife and political bargaining may further reduce the number as political parties of similar disposition are rationally inclined to support a common candidate in order to enhance their chances of winning nomination. Nominating committee members would then decide on their support for every single candidate. Their job would be not to pick "the best one" or to screen out the less desirable. Their role would be to decide whether or not a candidate under consideration would warrant their recommendation. They could support all candidates if they saw fit. Any person who commanded support from one eighth of the nominating committee would become an official candidate for chief executive and be subject to the public's choice. The threshold has been the minimum requirement for candidatures in all chief executive elections since the handover. These electoral precedents imply it is legitimate for the public to expect this continuity.
A3 The inclusion of the element of civic nomination is a matter of symbolic significance in this design. It is a gesture of respect for citizens' right in the process but the number of voters required for this task is open to discussion. The threshold of legislators' support is more significant. There is little room for reducing the number, as it may defeat the purpose of creating a meaningful linkage between the executive and legislative branches and inducing cooperation among political parties. On the other hand, the prerequisite of more support from legislators may move the whole political system along the spirit of a parliamentarian model. This does not appear to be the intent of the drafters of the Basic Law. The one-eighth requirement for nominating committee endorsement is almost non-negotiable. Any significant departure from this would certainly provoke distrust and undermine the credibility of the process.