My Take

The better of two undesirable options for 2017 election

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 3:36am

You really have to give it to Elsie Leung Oi-sie. Now in semi-retirement, it may be more comfortable for the Beijing loyalist to keep a lower profile and enjoy life. But foolhardiness or dedication to public service seems to compel her to speak up.

Let's not be too tough on the former justice secretary. Her latest statements and those of top mainland officials help spell out Beijing's bottom line on universal suffrage, so we know what's on the cards for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong people have every right to round on her and mainland officials, from President Xi Jinping down. But let's try to understand what they are actually saying first.

Taking all the recent mainland official pronouncements in their totality, Beijing has essentially given us only two choices in the chief executive election in 2017. Neither is palatable.

You either have a nomination committee that will screen out candidates deemed unacceptable to the central government, or Beijing will have a direct veto on any winner deemed unsuitable for the post. Beijing wants to retain both options. The best Hong Kong can get out of the central government is to convince it to give up one option.

However it turns out, every eligible voter will be able to cast a vote according to some sort of compromised "universal" suffrage under the Basic Law. So which option is less inimical to Hong Kong's interests?

Under the first option, you will have a restrictive and democratically questionable nomination committee that will pick out "acceptable" candidates at the outset. This will compromise the legitimacy of the election from the start, though it's still an improvement from last year's chief executive election.

Under the second option, a (hopefully) broadly representative and legitimate committee picks candidates more or less according to Hong Kong people's wishes, but Beijing holds the Sword of Damocles over the winner. This option is clearly preferable, as any election result would be considered legitimate to everyone so long as Beijing did not veto it.

That was what Leung meant when she said Hong Kong people would "not be stupid enough" to pick someone who would compel Beijing to use the sword.