Hong Kong people must not settle for anything less than universal suffrage

Anson Chan calls on Hong Kong people not to be deterred by the pro-Beijing bias shown in the consultation document for electoral reformand voice their support for universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 11:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 5:33am

The government has finally published its long-awaited consultation document on methods for selecting the chief executive in 2017 and for forming the Legislative Council in 2016. While Hong Kong 2020 had no great expectations, given that the public had already been advised it would contain no specific proposals, we did not expect it to be quite so lacklustre.

The document is repetitive, full of clichés and, despite the government's commitment to pave the way for an open discussion of options, takes some very uncompromising positions on interpretation of key parts of the Basic Law. The constant falling back on references to interpretations by mainland officials make it all too obvious that, while the document may have been drafted in Tamar, its tone and content was steered from the central government's liaison office in Western.

Hong Kong people must not be hoodwinked by the government's assertion that it is yet to have any position regarding the methods for selecting the chief executive and for forming Legco. A careful reading - not just of what the document says, but more importantly what it doesn't say - gives a strong indication of the sort of package we are likely to be presented with at the end of next year.

With regard to election of the chief executive, the document reminds us, again and again, that under Article 45 of the Basic Law, "the ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".

We are told that when it comes to defining what is meant by "broadly representative", we should assume the term has the same meaning as in the case of the Election Committee. This completely ignores the widely held opinion that the Election Committee is anything but "broadly representative"; on the contrary, it is dominated by pro-Beijing business and professional elites and elected by a mere 240,000 individual and corporate voters - some of whom can vote in multiple sectors and thus wield a totally disproportionate influence on the electoral outcome.

If the future nominating committee is to have credibility, its structure and the size of its electoral base must be different from those of the Election Committee.

Then we come to the issue of the nominating process. Having been told that we must take reference from the Election Committee, the document sends a strong signal that the nominating procedure could be completely different from that of the Election Committee. Up till now, aspiring candidates for the post of chief executive have had to obtain individual nominations from a minimum of one-eighth of Election Committee members (currently 150). However, the document suggests that the future nominating committee should undertake a form of "organisational or collective nomination".

This concept of "organisational nomination" is completely new and has no basis in the Basic Law. It is therefore essential that the government states clearly, now, what exactly is meant by organisational nomination and how it would function in practice, so the public can comment on this option in an informed manner.

In the absence of such clarification, the public can be forgiven for smelling a rat. Despite its shortcomings, the current chief executive nomination system has at least enabled democrat candidates Alan Leong Kah-kit and Albert Ho Chun-yan to enter previous election races. If the government is sincere in wanting to ensure that voters have a genuine choice of candidates in 2017, why the need for radical change?

There can only be one reason. Beijing is determined to put in place a totally fail-safe system: a nominating committee that is under its control and a nomination threshold of many more votes than a democrat candidate can expect to win. Let's not forget that no pro-democracy candidate has won a seat in the National People's Congress in the four rounds of election held since the handover.

Bottom line? Prospective candidates that are acceptable to the central government will survive the nomination process; those deemed unacceptable will be screened out.

When it comes to discussion of possible changes to the method of forming the 2016 Legco, the document's sins of omission are particularly glaring.

First, the elephant in the room, the fact that functional constituencies are fundamentally inconsistent with internationally accepted definitions of universal and equal suffrage, is completely ignored. Worse still, the summary of past and present views on functional constituencies makes no mention that public opinion polls in recent years have shown a large majority backing the abolition of functional constituencies as soon as possible.

Also ignored is the inequity of the current split voting system, under which functional constituency members (in some cases elected by a tiny number of corporate votes and in others returned uncontested, year after year) can vote down the wishes of legislators directly elected in geographical constituencies.

If the outcome of the current consultation is to stand any chance of producing a package of proposals that can be supported by the necessary two-thirds of Legco members, not to mention the general public, then the government must stop ducking and weaving and tackle head-on these contentious but crucial issues.

In the face of so much dissembling on the part of the government, it is hard at times not to feel disheartened. Despite this, I believe it has never been more important for Hong Kong people to speak up clearly for the genuine universal suffrage that has been promised them so long, and not to feel constrained by the inadequacies of the consultation document.

Above all, we must not be tempted to compromise our principles, simply because any form of progress - however flawed - seems better than our present broken system of government. Achieving the good governance we deserve will not be easy, but we must all rise to the challenge.

Anson Chan, a former chief secretary in the Hong Kong government, is convenor of Hongkong2020