Legco elections 2012

The 2012 Hong Kong Legislative Council Election will be held on 9 September 2012 for the 5th Legislative Council since the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. 

CommentInsight & Opinion

Now, crunch the numbers for electoral reform

Mike Rowse says 47 legislators must now agree on democratisation plan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 1:29am
 

Former US president Bill Clinton said in his speech to the Democratic convention nominating Barack Obama for re-election that he always gave a one-word answer when people asked how he had managed to balance the budget during his own second term: arithmetic.

I think we can give a similar response in answer to the question why the biggest loser from the recent Legislative Council election was none of the political parties or individuals vying for office, but rather our very own Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen.

Tam needs to bring forward proposals to provide for democratic election of the chief executive in 2017, and the Legislative Council in 2020. Moreover, to achieve the latter, he must use the 2016 Legco election as a stepping stone.

The relevant provisions of the Basic Law specify that, in order to make the necessary amendments to the electoral laws, the government needs to muster a two-thirds majority of all Legco members. Given that we now have 70 legislators, that means 47 votes, and Tam hasn't got them. In order to get them, he is going to have to do a deal with someone, and that will not be easy.

The 2010 reform package, which led to the addition of five extra seats in the geographical constituencies and the creation of five new "super" seats in the functional constituency section, could only be passed because the Democratic Party members broke ranks from their fellow pan-democrats, acted like statesmen, and reached a mature compromise agreement.

It was the right thing to do, but as so often in life, doing the right thing carried a price tag. Support for the Democratic Party declined in this election, against the relative rise of the nihilists in the People Power/League of Social Democrats fringe.

Where, then, is the incentive for any of the moderate democrats to come to the table again and do another deal with the administration? Clearly the Democratic Party, still bruised from the pummelling it took this year, is not going to go it alone a second time. Its members will want to have the cover of their fellow democrats in the Civic Party and the Labour Party.

I can think of only one concession the administration could offer which might bring all three parties to the table, and that is a promise to abolish the functional constituencies altogether.

Such a package would carry its own risks. The concession needed to secure the extra votes from the pan-democratic camp could result in the loss of some of the pro-establishment votes among the existing functional seat representatives.

After all, in no fewer than 16 out of the 30 "not very democratic" functional constituencies, the member concerned was returned unopposed this time. Indeed, at least one constituency has seen no contest, and several others nearly none, since 1997. Those 16, plus any other members out to cause trouble, could also put the 47 threshold at risk.

One way to soften the blow might be to give them one more ride on the gravy train: only significant reform of the functional constituencies in 2016, with outright abolition deferred until 2020.

In case any of the stakeholders are contemplating a scenario without any progress at all in 2016, I can only entreat them to think through the consequences. For the government, it would mean a failure to follow through on the Beijing promises to Hong Kong people of steady progress towards full democratisation, with key milestones in 2017 and 2020.

Moderate democratic forces would have shown themselves to be no more effective in the real world than their extremist rivals, who would be sure to make further gains in future elections. Meanwhile, if progress could not be achieved by compromise and common sense, there would be a strong temptation for anyone with a grievance to take their supporters onto the streets.

That is not "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong". Rather, it would mean Hong Kong was becoming ungovernable. So get out there, Mr Tam, and get those 47 votes. It's all a matter of arithmetic.

Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk

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