Aim for 2016 political reforms that most people could live with

Mike Rowse says it may help usher in less acrimonious talks on 2017

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 3:41am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 3:41am

When a task seems daunting in terms of scale and complexity, it can be useful to split it up into manageable bite-size pieces and take them one at a time, starting with the easier ones.

After a while, the scale and complexity will have been reduced, and the residual task will be less intimidating.

This is a useful tactic to bear in mind as the opposing forces lock themselves into mutually exclusive "bottom lines" on the subject of political reform.

Issues surrounding options for the nomination process for the chief executive election in 2017 seem most controversial, so let's set that subject aside for a moment and focus instead on the 2016 elections for the Legislative Council.

One question raised by the government's consultation paper is whether there is a case for increasing the number of legislators from the present 70. That's an easy one: the answer is no. We need to concentrate on quality, not quantity, and improve representativeness. A ratio of one member per 100,000 of population seems reasonable provided we are selecting them in the right way.

Another idea floated is whether the present even split between geographical and functional constituencies - 35 in each category - should be maintained. That doesn't seem too difficult either. Since the theme is to move towards universal suffrage in a steady way, how about we go from 50:50 to 60:40, that is, 42 seats in the geographical constituencies and 28 in the functional ones?

As five of the seven extra seats in the former category can be secured by converting the "super seats" created in the 2010 reform exercise, we need to find only two of the remaining functional constituencies that can be spared to achieve the target. There is surely ample scope to amalgamate some of the smaller business-related constituencies.

Turning now to the arrangements for the 28 functional constituency seats that remain, two potential reform measures stand out.

Politics is about people, not inanimate objects. There can be no possible justification for retaining corporate voting. All voters in all the constituencies should be natural persons, not companies or organisations.

Finally, there should be a respectable number of them, too. So let us set a reasonable threshold - 20,000? 50,000? Toss a coin. There we are, you see. A significant step forward in the constitutional development of Hong Kong and we haven't even broken a sweat yet.

The above package won't satisfy those who want no change, still less will it please those who want all the functional constituencies to be scrapped immediately. But I venture to suggest it is the sort of compromise that most ordinary people could learn to live with. It deserves the support of two-thirds of Legco members now, and it would leave us well set for a further round of reforms in time for the 2020 elections.

We can at last turn our attention to the arrangements for nominating candidates for chief executive. The key issues here are remarkably simple but have been obscured by the presence in the debate so far of no fewer than three red herrings.

They are civil nomination, party nomination and collective nomination. Why the first two are fatally flawed and why the last is both undemocratic and would be a disaster for China now and for the next chief executive in due course deserve separate discussion on another day. There are complex underlying issues that need to be explored before possible solutions can emerge. In particular, we need to address the composition of the nominating committee and a fair threshold.

But if we get the 2016 package right, perhaps the 2017 conversation can take place in a better atmosphere.

Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.