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  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 9:12pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong democracy must be a balancing act

Regina Ip says balancing Beijing's reasonable demand for a say in electing the chief executive with people's desire for the vote won't be easy, but it's necessary if we are to progress

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 3:24am
 

As predicted, Hong Kong's democratic debate entered a new phase shortly after the July 1 mass protest. On July 9, the Alliance for True Democracy, a coalition of pro-democracy activists, put forward three proposals for electing the chief executive in 2017.

The first option involves forming a 1,500-strong nominating committee by adding all district councillors to be elected in 2015 to 1,200 members to be returned by a body similar to the existing Election Committee that selects the chief executive.

Apart from meeting the qualifications for standing as a chief executive candidate as provided in Article 44 of the Basic Law, the nominating criterion will be one-tenth of the votes of all members of the nominating committee, or 2 per cent of the votes of all registered voters, amounting to between 70,000 and 80,000 voters.

The second option involves dividing Hong Kong into 20 geographical districts, each returning 20 representatives to form a 400-strong nominating committee.

A candidate would need to garner one-tenth of the votes of members of the nominating committee, apart from meeting Basic Law requirements for candidacy.

The third option involves forming a 500-strong nominating committee comprising all district councillors and legislators.

Nomination criterion will be one-tenth of the votes of members of the nominating committee or 2 per cent of the votes of all registered voters, apart from meeting Basic Law candidacy requirements.

Article 45 of the Basic Law requires that the chief executive must be nominated by a "broadly representative" nominating committee in accordance with "democratic procedures".

Senior officials have thus far failed to explain what "democratic procedures" would entail.

Given that appointment by the authorities in Beijing and nomination by a "broadly representative" nominating committee are unavoidable requirements in the Basic Law, democracy advocates such as the Alliance for True Democracy have attempted to circumvent Beijing's control by seeking to form the nominating committee by staging universal, free elections, or stacking the committee with representatives returned by such elections.

As a Post writer, Debasish Roy Chowdhury, pointed out in a recent article, in political science literature, holding periodic, universal, free elections merely satisfies the "formal" or "procedural" aspects of democracy.

According to Aristotle, the essence of democracy does not lie in expanding political rights. The essence of democracy is freedom, which, along with the rule of law, acts as a safeguard against the abuse of power and tyranny.

To the extent that Hong Kong has always enjoyed a high level of personal and civic freedoms, robust rule of law (in accordance with which runaway American spy Edward Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong last month), and a strong, independent judiciary, Hong Kong is already mostly free, well before the onset of universal suffrage-based democracy in Hong Kong.

All that remains is granting the political right to elect the chief executive ultimately to all eligible voters, as promised in the Basic Law.

It is easy to slam all defenders of the Basic Law and the substantive power of the authorities in Beijing to have the final say on the selection of the chief executive as anti-democratic.

But it is equally important to ask whether it is unreasonable to deny Hong Kong's sovereign power a decisive say in the selection of the city's highest ruler, and whether handing all power of choosing the chief to the people is in keeping with Hong Kong's political reality.

The city is, after all, no more than a special administrative region of China with a high level of autonomy, not an independent country.

Constitutional reality apart, Hong Kong being part of China and strategically located at its southern gateway, it is reasonable for the central government to want to ensure that Hong Kong will be run by someone who will bear its interests in mind, apart from being accountable to the people of Hong Kong.

Viewed from Beijing's perspective, if things turned sour in Hong Kong - for example, if it needed an economic relief package from the mainland, or protection in the face of foreign aggression - then the city would need to turn to Beijing for rescue.

Or, in a worst-case scenario, if an incompetent or disloyal chief executive elected by the people badly messed up the governance of Hong Kong, and indirectly the well-being of the nation, China would be stuck with the consequences.

This is not to say, however, that an appointment system relying on a selection body largely controlled by Beijing would be less likely to end up producing the wrong chief.

Or to suggest that it would be a simple task to reconcile the demands of those who run the nation with the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong.

Indeed, this baffling conundrum is arguably the greatest historic challenge facing Hong Kong.

It is a battle China, including Hong Kong, cannot lose if the nation as a whole is to move forward and prosper.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party

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hard times !
a balancing act
how ?
it is just a poison
with sweet coat
only ! Regina is known
for her pro-China stance
ever since 2003
when she was
secretary for
security yet she
strived hard as a sole
warrior to have
that much-hated and
feared Article 23
to be formulated
in our Basic Law
regardless of huge
objection of most
people in town
the result was:
her forced stepping
down and went
to the States
for further studies
now she re-emerges
as an elected lawmaker
and one of the governing
team---an Exco member
who stands out to
express her views
from time to time
maybe deep in
her mind---she really
wishes to become
the first female
chief executive
yet in a universal
suffrage of geniune
type, she will have
no chance at
all ! Just wait and see
impala
Of course calling for a reasonable balance sounds good, but this is Ms Ip at her worst.

1. Universal suffrage isn't just about everybody having the right to cast a vote. It is also about everybody being able to run for elected office. Sure, there must be some minimal threshold/pre-selection procedure, mainly for practical purposes (we don't want confusing ballots of 25 pages with 1000 candidates). But a mechanism by which Candidate A fulfils the selection criteria and gets on the ballot, yet Candidate B who also fulfils those criteria, does not get on the ballot because he doesn't get Beijing approval, is NOT universal suffrage.

2. Sure, everybody but the most stubborn mainland-critics will agree that Hong Kong and its leaders need to cooperate with the mainland and maintain a cordial relationship. Our economic, environmental and even political interests are aligned with the mainland, on a national and especially regional level. But why can't we just trust the Hong Kong electorate to draw the same inevitable conclusion? Why the paranoia that the Hong Kong people would fail understand something that is so bleeding obvious?

Is Beijing really so paranoid/mistrustful/stupid to think that the majority of Hongkongers would elect somebody who is at radical odds with national/regional politicians? And, even if such an anti-Beijing majority would exist, does Beijing really think it could counter that by nevertheless imposing a pro-Beijing leader? It doesn't make sense.
patrick.kt.14
Ms. Ip does have a point in that Hong Kong is not a sovereign independent country. Like it or not, it is fact that no one can deny. At the end of the day, all parties must give and take to come to a viable process. We have to accept that it is not going to be perfect, but at least it will be practical and pragmatic. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".
hard times !
In a democratic society, the citizens have got the right to vote for their leaders.How about the right to be voted ? Ms Regina Ip is deliberately attempting to omit this important component of a democratic political system through the form of a universal suffrage.She is misleading ignorant Hongkongers now.Shame on her words and acts from time to time by writing in South China Morning Post to mislead the public in believing that they have only the right to vote but not to be voted as stated in the International Covenant of Rights & Human Rights that in a geniune universal suffrage, all the qualified voters enjoy the right to vote and run for office (there should never be any types of discrimination or so-called filtering out any candidates no matter how radical their political views maybe) and according to our Basic Law articles 26 and 38, citizens in the territory enjoy the right to elect their leaders and be elected when there is a universal suffrage promised to us.Ms Ip (with an evil mind maybe as she did in 2003 when she mentioned that even Hilter was elected through,'one person, one vote') used to object to any types of democracy though she had once gone to the States to study under Professor Diamond who is an authority on democractic political system.But what has she learnt from this scholar (whose e-mail reply to a local media disagreeing with Ms Ip's views on a democratic politcal system here) ? I wonder.She might do better as an English subject teacher here instead.
whymak
Ms. Ip, you're wasting time preaching to morons. Ken Arrow's Impossibility Theorem for social choices could never be understood by your detractors.

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