Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Left and right need to be in step for the political reform fandango

Mike Rowse looks at how we can get officials and pan-dems together

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 3:59am

By golly, they make an unlikely couple, but somehow the pan-democratic movement and the administration must be coaxed onto the dance floor together to secure universal suffrage for Hong Kong in 2017.

It's not going to be pretty to watch. But failure is not an option. It is not hyperbole to say that Hong Kong's very future depends on successfully finding a way forward.

Let's set out the problem areas first. For the 2016 Legislative Council election, the administration has ruled out any changes that would require amendment to Annex II of the Basic Law. That means no change in the 50:50 split between geographical and functional constituencies. This naturally comes as a disappointment to those who wanted all functional constituencies scrapped.

But retention of the structure for the next election cycle does not necessarily mean no change at all in two years' time. Moreover, since the consultation document, the report on it, and the chief executive's report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee all repeat the mantra that progress must be "gradual and orderly", in accordance with the Basic Law, arguably a standstill would itself be a breach of the law.

Two obvious changes that could be made under purely local legislation would be to scrap corporate voting in favour of voting by individuals, and to set a minimum threshold for the number of voters in each functional constituency.

Some fine-tuning of the arrangements for the geographical constituencies would also be possible, again without troubling the Standing Committee.

The two problem areas with respect to the chief executive election arrangements for 2017 are the composition of the nominating committee and the threshold. It is disappointing that we are stuck with the existing Election Committee as a model, as it is notoriously unrepresentative. But, whether it stays at the present size of 1,200 or grows to 1,600, the representativeness can be greatly improved if there is a will to do so. The key will be the actual wording of the Standing Committee decision.

If the decision is too prescriptive, then the jig will be up. But if the Standing Committee is clever, then the wording will be more general, in effect throwing the ball back to the SAR government to come up with detailed proposals to achieve the objective.

Which brings us to the crux of the whole exercise: the threshold. Many people could just about tolerate the unrepresentative nature of the Election Committee while the threshold was one-eighth. The reference in the consultation document to organisational nomination implied that a panel of candidates would be endorsed by the nominating committee as a whole, that is, the threshold would in effect be 50 per cent. There is no such requirement in the Basic Law, yet the chief executive's report also refers to the need to meet the requirement of nominating "as an organisation". Does that mean end of story?

Sadly it could be, but not necessarily. The same paragraph includes a section which reads "a person contending for nomination has to obtain the support from at least a certain proportion of members of the nominating committee in order to formally become a candidate". There is no definition of "certain proportion" nor is there anything to stop the committee agreeing that people achieving that proportion would automatically be endorsed. So there could be wiggle room if we want to find it.

But, waltz or tango, it all hinges on whether the two dancers are prepared to embrace and take the floor.

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