The Basic Law was drafted as part of the Sino-British Joint Declaration covering Hong Kong after its handover to China on July 1, 1997. The joint declaration stated that Hong Kong would be governed under the principle of ‘one country-two systems’ and would continue to enjoy its capitalist system and individual freedoms for 50 years after the handover.
All sides involved in political reform debate must narrow their differences
It goes without saying that electoral reforms in a city like Hong Kong must be legally sound. Not only should the arrangements be consistent with the law, they also have to be able to withstand any challenge in court. A case in point is the controversial concept of allowing the public to name candidates when universal suffrage is used for the first time to elect the chief executive in 2017. After months of heated debate, it is becoming increasingly clear that the proposal put forward by some pan-democrats does not have a firm legal foothold.
In a submission to the public consultation on the issue, the Bar Association has shot down the so-called public nomination idea. It said the explicit language of the Basic Law does not envisage nomination other than by a broadly representative body. The nominating committee should not rubberstamp as a matter of law or course those put forward by a specific number of voters, the association argued.
That the latest opposing voice comes from a respectable legal body is illuminating. The arguments are similar to those put forward earlier by the secretary for justice. They have reinforced the view that public nomination is inconsistent with the framework laid down by the Basic Law. Given the influence of the Bar Association, the view should be taken seriously.
Politically, public nomination was never a feasible option. Mainland officials have repeatedly dismissed the proposal, saying vesting the power of nomination in a broadly representative committee can reduce the risk of electing someone unacceptable to Beijing and different sectors.
The reform will enter a new stage after the close of the consultation this week. It would be a waste of time and effort to continue dwelling on proposals that are unlikely to win Beijing's blessing. The association has helped put the focus back on other important issues, such as the composition of the committee and the nomination threshold. The association's views on these matters are, fundamentally, different from those put forward by government-friendly groups. For example, it opposes putting a cap on candidate numbers; it also does not support a simple majority to determine who can come forward, saying the nomination process should produce a spectrum or plurality of candidates for voters.
The community is still nowhere close to a consensus on the arrangement for universal suffrage. The stakeholders have to work harder to narrow their differences and come up with a package acceptable to the majority.