Political reform consultation fails the test of open debate

Frank Ching says a close reading of the political reform consultation document gives the lie to officials' promise of open-mindedness

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 10:40am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 2:04am

The public consultation on political reform is in some ways reminiscent of an exercise launched by the British colonial government in 1987 on whether there should be direct elections in 1988. Both were intended to show that the government listens to the people, yet both were clearly designed to make the people listen to the government.

In the current consultation, we are told our views have to abide by the Basic Law, the National People's Congress Standing Committee's interpretation of 2004 and its decision in 2007 on constitutional reform. The consultation maintains the fiction that there is currently a working, executive-led government. But anyone with half a brain can see that the executive-led system is not working.

But are our views sought on this issue in the public consultation? Of course not.

Preconceived notions can be discerned in the consultation document. Thus, we are told that when creating the nominating committee, we may refer to the current Election Committee. It is entirely likely that in the end we will see the members of the Election Committee converted wholesale into members of the nominating committee and be told that this was the public's view.

This hasn't happened yet. The nominating committee doesn't exist yet. The public is supposed to decide how to create it. And yet, in Chapter Five of the consultation document, we are asked, "If the total number of nominating committee members is to be increased, how should the newly added seats be distributed among the four sectors?"

Wait a minute. There is no nominating committee yet. How can its membership be increased or decreased? The public has not spoken yet.

Perhaps this is an indication that decisions have already been made by the authorities and, in the fullness of time, will be announced as having been made by the public.

So far, we have been told that the Basic Law and the two NPC Standing Committee statements are authoritative and must be obeyed. We haven't been told that individual views of any Chinese official are just as authoritative.

And yet, it is implicit in the document. On page 26, we are told in a footnote that Qiao Xiaoyang , chairman of the NPC Law Committee, "mentioned" in a speech that "the nomination of chief executive candidates by the nominating committee is a form of organisational nomination".

That, presumably, is his personal view, not an NPC Standing Committee decision. And, yet, 13 pages later, when procedures for the nominating committee are discussed, we are asked, "How could the 'democratic procedures' reflect the requirement of 'organisational nomination'?"

So an opinion "mentioned" by Qiao is now a "requirement". Why is an opinion treated as though it is the equivalent of the Basic Law?

The more one reads this "consultation document", the harder it is to believe the government's contention that it has no preconceived opinions.

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