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  • Nov 23, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

Win-win political reform solution is possible for Hong Kong

Sonny Lo says reaching agreement on how to democratise Hong Kong's political system may be difficult, but there are workable solutions. One is to introduce abicameral legislature

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 2:26am

It may be difficult to change the Legislative Council in a way that is acceptable to both Beijing and democrats, but it is not impossible. Beijing's bottom line is obvious: the 50-50 split between functional constituency members and those returned in geographical constituencies must remain, to maintain the dominance of the pro-establishment forces.

But there are still a number of alternatives that can be considered.

Designing political models that are acceptable to both Beijing and the people is vital to our stability

First, in 2016, the number of lawmakers could be increased from the current 70 to 80. The five functional seats could follow the same format as the 2012 "super seats", with candidates nominated by district councillors and then directly elected by the people. Alternatively, functional constituencies could be reformed by, for example, creating five new functional groups - for women, retired citizens, ethnic minorities, youth, and interest groups representing mainland immigrants, or voting for functional seats could be expanded to all voters working in a certain sector.

Second, the number of directly elected lawmakers could be increased from 35 to 70, thus achieving direct election of the entire council. This model would surely be rejected by Beijing, which would see it as a radical change.

Third, two chambers could - and, I believe, should - be set up: one composed entirely of elected members, either 35 or even 70; plus a new Functional Council with the same number of members, to retain the 50:50 ratio.

This model would seem to be a win-win solution; the pro-democracy camp would achieve immediate direct election of the legislature, while functional constituencies, cherished by the business sector and Beijing, would be maintained in the Functional Council.

But there are disadvantages. Changes would have to be made to Article 68 of the Basic Law, by deleting the statement that the method for forming Legco conforms to the principle of gradual and orderly change. The section covering the method of forming the legislature, and the part governing voting procedures, would also need to be modified.

Bills introduced by the government could still be passed by a simple majority, if this was the consensus among the democrats and Beijing.

To pass motions, bills or amendments to government bills introduced by individual legislators, we could consider requiring passage by the two councils, each through a simple majority vote. In this bicameral system, Legco's operation would remain the same, with a relatively powerful Functional Council acting as a check on directly elected members.

Further, if the bill was blocked by the Functional Council, a committee with an equal number of members from both councils could be set up to break the deadlock. Or there could be a yearly limit on the number of times the Functional Council could veto bills.

The first alternative is similar to the US system in which the House of Representatives and Senate set up a conference committee to hammer out solutions when required. The second option acts as a check on the veto power of the Functional Council against the lower chamber.

Finally, under a bicameral system, the Functional Council would not need super seats; rather, functional constituencies would need to be reformed, by adding new sectors. Moreover, a few of the 1,200 members of the chief executive Election Committee could perhaps be elected into the upper chamber. Under a bicameral system, the upper house could be designed to allow broad representation.

For the 2017 chief executive election, we should look to former Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming's model (which he subsequently withdrew), in which five candidates could be selected for the race, with a 1,200-member nomination committee based on the existing Election Committee.

Beijing would probably see this as dangerous, given that at least one pan-democrat would have a good chance of being nominated. To make it more acceptable to Beijing, we could use the 2012 election as a reference; one of three final candidates - Albert Ho Chun-yan - was a democrat. So, perhaps three, rather than five, candidates screened by the nomination committee in 2017 would be acceptable to both Beijing and most Hongkongers.

To address the concern of Qiao Xiaoyang , chairman of the Law Committee of the National People's Congress, that the chief executive must be someone who "loves the country and loves Hong Kong", all candidates competing for the three slots should swear allegiance to the People's Republic of China and the Basic Law. In this way, the political criteria of "patriotism" would be met, and Beijing would not veto any candidate to be directly elected by the people.

Clearly, designing political models that are acceptable to both Beijing and the people is vital to our stability and progress. With a chief executive election along the lines outlined here, including a declaration of allegiance from all candidates, plus a bicameral legislative system, Hong Kong can move towards universal suffrage without ceaseless internal political disputes.

Professor Sonny Lo Shiu-hing is head of the Department of Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education

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lucifer
"...to maintain the dominance of the pro-establishment forces."
How is anything workable under these conditions? Such a systemn gaurantess that the votes of Hong Kong citizens will be degraded as the Pro-Communist Party locals enjoy a gauranteed majority. Its gauranteed because it almost certain that the elected 50% will not always vote in unison. This entire debate is a farce. negotiating with a dictator on the development of democracy when its pre-requisite is that no democracy can exist as a result is ludicrious.
hard times !
the writer of the article attacked by you,'whymak' is never a so-called hare-brained academic.No one in the territory with a proper English education would choose to use such words such as,' hare-brained' or 'Confucian gentleman' or 'petty people' except you---the so-called short-time teacher and a scientist who can never think or write logicially, not to say convincingly here in this Comment of SCMP----a long-time prestigious English paper in Hong Kong, I dare say !
hard times !
without ceaseless internal political disputes in Hong Kong nowadays sounds like a dream, a daydream indeed, I should say, Right ?
hard times !
there won't be any so-called win-win situation in our upcoming consitutional reforms to be introduced by the battered Leung administration next year as Beijing's bottom-line is obvious enough:the candidates competing for the top post in town must be someone,' loves the country (th Party ?) and Hong Kong (this criteria is ridiculous indeed since no Hongkonger won't love Hong Kong.right ?) plus not opposing the Chinese Communist government .In this respect, our democrats might not meet the requirements and will probably be fouled from the race well before it starts.If only 2 to 3 pro-establishment candidates are finally allowed to be 'elected' by all qualified voters in town,then all supporters of pan-democrats can choose to abstain themselves from voting or casting void ballots or ineffective ballots if they have to go to the polling stations on the Election Day ! Right ? A boycott of the pan-democrats will cause the elected government no mandate and poor popularity which will obstruct its governance since maybe up to 60% of the voters are absent from the Election !
alexchankc
With all due respect..............how can we assume that 60% of the general votes would boycott the vote? This is again a classic example of hijacking public opinion........
alexchankc
About LegCo reform, the second option would not be acceptable to Beijing. The 3rd option is also not practical, as Beijing would not agree to a change to the Basic Law. The indoctrinated pan-democratic could not accept a Functional Council, albeit modeled after the US Style Senate.
Perhaps only the first option is workable (if at least a few clear minded pan-democratic legislator is willing to consider the big picture). When all District Council members are elected by one person one vote geographically, why, at LegCo election, would the same candidates from this sector become violating the principle of fair election? I find it illogical, and unfortunate, those few hard line politicians had just hijacked public opinion against it for their own political agenda.
If Hong Kongers are real serious about moving forward positively in election reforms, we should and we must take a big step to brush aside our old political baggage & outdated doctrines; and be willing to consider alternative proposals that will lead to a positive outcome.
whymak
Another prescription for disaster by a hare-brained academic.
"...similar to the US system in which the House of Representatives and Senate set up a conference committee to hammer out solutions when required." The US government is constantly gridlocked and he advocates the same.
With a copycat mindset like this, maybe some eager beaver would check on potential plagiarism in his PhD thesis and other publications. Wasn't some important academic at the City University so accused? He is still talking a mile a minute about Democracy.
How could educated people be so shameless?
whymak
Better yet, we contribute the guns and let you stage an uprising in Shenzhen like a latter day Sun Yatsen. I am sure we will get our money's worth of pure entertainment as long as revolutionaries direct their hate and violence up north and leave Hong Kong alone.
lucifer
If you touch the Basic Law, without autonomous sef-government, everything will go out the window.

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