Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Time to widen election debate

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 2:35am

The political temperature has risen after the pan-democrats floated more ideas for how universal suffrage should be achieved in 2017. A contentious point is a popular vote to elect the nominating committee for the chief executive poll, as opposed to the existing election committee whose ballot is confined to 240,000 voters. The proposals by the Alliance for True Democracy have yet to receive full support from allies. They have also not been well received by the rival camp, with some questioning if they are in line with the Basic Law and the parameters laid down by the state legislature five years ago.

Viable or not, the suggestions deserve broader public discussion. They fill the gaps while the government continues to dodge a formal consultation on electoral arrangements. The pan-democrats apparently want a citywide ballot to prevent the committee from being dominated by Beijing loyalists, who can, in theory, screen out hopefuls deemed unacceptable to Beijing during the nomination process. But judging from the reaction, the proposals have failed to narrow the divide with the rival camp. The idea of two rounds of "one person, one vote" - to form the committee and to choose the chief executive - may seem unrealistic to people familiar with Beijing's view. Some may go further, accusing the alliance of infringing the Basic Law and the decisions made by the National People's Congress Standing Committee in 2007.

The mini-constitution provides for a nominating panel but stops short of saying how it should be drawn up. Arguably, there is no provision banning "one person, one vote" to elect the members. The pan-democrats contend that a popular vote is the best way to enhance representativeness. They say that if people are ultimately allowed to choose their leader, it makes sense to open the ballot when electing the panel that decides who can come forward. After all, the essence of universal suffrage is fair and equal participation, they say.

Universal suffrage can only be achieved through discussions and negotiations. If the reactions are indicative of Beijing's view, the proposals are not likely to be accepted. The next question is whether the pan-democrats are willing to compromise and amend their proposals to keep the debate going. Otherwise, there will be deadlock. Beijing should also talk to the pan-democrats instead of rejecting the proposals right away. For a healthy debate, it would be good to hear more ideas from other political parties as well.