Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Pan-democrats demands for reform must be guided by reason

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 2:37am

Upset by the government's reluctance to make an early start on constitutional reform, pan-democrat lawmakers have stepped up the campaign with an alliance pushing for genuine universal suffrage. The next challenge for them is to come up with a clear proposal - one that stands a good chance of winning support in Beijing and Hong Kong.

Without any blueprint for a focused and informed debate, there is growing speculation as to what may or may not be implemented in 2017, when for the first time the city is due to return the chief executive by one person, one vote. The past few weeks have seen bitter disputes over the need for a screening mechanism - seen by some as a tool to shut out candidates unacceptable to Beijing. The alliance has already vowed to reject any unfair arrangements.

The pan-democrats are understandably keen to push for as liberal a regime as possible. The essence of universal suffrage is, after all, being fair and equal. This includes giving everyone the same right to elect and be elected. The ideals are also enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, whose provisions are to be implemented through local law under Article 39 of the Basic Law.

On the other hand, Article 45 stipulates that the future leader is to be elected by universal suffrage "by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures". This has been interpreted by some as a pre-screening or primary poll. It remains unclear what arrangements will be put in place. But the recent debate shows there are opposing views in society. The issue is poised to be the focus in future and warrants more serious discussions.

Like it or not, arrangements not within the constitutional framework are unlikely to be approved. The pan-democrats' call to reject "fake" democracy is probably shared by many in society. But the public also looks forward to a clear blueprint from the camp, one that has good prospects of being passed.

The alliance has been hailed as the pan-democrats' first show of unity after the rift three years ago over reforms. But whether they can stay as a united front remains to be seen. Some radical members have threatened to pull out if their demands are not met. With 27 votes in Legco, the bloc holds de facto veto power over the coming reform. To wield the biggest political influence, they should produce a feasible electoral package for public discussion.