Qiao Xiaoyang's topsy-turvy understanding of democracy

Frank Ching says Qiao Xiaoyang's topsy-turvy understanding of universal suffrage will set back our democratic development

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 3:20am

Many people will agree with Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the Law Committee of the National People's Congress, when he says Hong Kong's chief executive must be someone who "loves the country and loves Hong Kong", and not be confrontational towards Beijing.

But the means he proposes for ensuring that only such people will be elected are profoundly undemocratic.

Qiao quotes the Basic Law as saying that the future chief executive will be selected by universal suffrage "upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".

That sounds pretty good until you discover that the future nomination procedure will be even less democratic than the current Election Committee system. At least the current system allowed the nomination last year of Albert Ho Chun-yan, then chairman of the Democratic Party, and, in 2007, the nomination of Alan Leong Kah-kit of the Civic Party.

Of course, both were defeated in the Election Committee, and public opinion polls showed they would have lost even in a city-wide vote. This was a reflection of Hong Kong voters' good sense: they know it is a bad idea to elect someone who is confrontational.

Qiao makes it clear that, with universal suffrage, such people can't even be nominated.

The central government wants to be sure that a pro-establishment candidate will win in 2017. And the only way it can be sure of this is to exclude all those it finds objectionable as candidates.

So, instead of universal suffrage elections marking a big step forward in Hong Kong's democratic development, Qiao's plan is to bring about a retrogression, with a narrower choice of candidates available even though all qualified electors will be able to vote. This bizarre definition of universal suffrage is totally contrary to the spirit of democracy.

Of course, even in democratic countries there are rules for nomination. In the US, each party nominates its own candidate. However, the Hong Kong nominating committee, if it operates the way Qiao describes, will be equivalent to one political party nominating two or more candidates. This will make Hong Kong in effect a one-party jurisdiction, similar to the mainland. But under "one country, two systems", shouldn't Hong Kong be different from the mainland?

In support of his position, Qiao said that no country would appoint someone who was confrontational to head a local government. But we are talking here about elections, not appointments. Barack Obama, for example, cannot insist that only a Democrat can be elected.

Interestingly, Qiao realises that his ideas are not acceptable to most people in Hong Kong. That is why he said this is not the right time to consult the public. The right time may take a long time to come. This seems to be the application of a new principle: when the people have lost the trust of the government, the government will choose a new people.

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