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  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 10:14am
Universal Suffrage
CommentInsight & Opinion

The logic of Beijing's vision for 2017 chief executive election

Regina Ip says its so-called hard line on Hong Kong's electoral arrangements for 2017 is based on a sound understanding of international law and the provisions of the Basic Law

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 August, 2014, 5:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 August, 2014, 6:43am

In a further effort to win over the support of Hong Kong people, in particular that of legislators in the pan-democratic camp, Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, met a cross-section of Hong Kong representatives at three seminars held in Shenzhen this month.

Even before the meeting, some of the democrats, who got wind of the "hard line" to be taken by the central authorities, already despaired of a last-minute, dramatic breakthrough, as had happened in the previous constitutional reform exercise in 2010. What is it about Beijing's vision for the chief executive election by universal suffrage in 2017 that led the pan-democrats to turn pessimistic?

It is not just the asymmetry of power but also the asymmetry of argument that might have led the pan-democrats to become a spent force ahead of the endgame. Whatever you might think of Beijing's "hard line", the arguments put forward by Li, an official clearly schooled in legal theory and logical analysis, deserve close scrutiny.

On the proposition that the chief executive election should be conducted in accordance with "international norms", Li noted that, in accordance with article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a political right is a unique right in that it is one which needs to be conferred and implemented by law. As the covenant was a document entered into by state parties after protracted negotiations, the actual arrangements realising such a right need to be implemented by way of legislation drawn up in the light of the actual circumstances in each jurisdiction.

As a footnote to Li's comment, and a reality check on claims that Hong Kong's electoral arrangement must conform with certain opaque "international standards", it is noteworthy that the covenant was adopted by the United Nations in 1966. Many nations, including the US and Britain, entered reservations in respect of their territories. The UK entered a reservation in respect of Hong Kong people's right to vote, while the US entered a number of exceptions reserving, among others, its right to implement the death penalty.

Second, Li pointed out that while the legal system enacted in accordance with the principles enshrined in article 25 is fair, the outcome cannot be equal as there is only one vacant position where the highest office is concerned. It is for individuals seeking that office to work within the system to achieve their goals. It would not be fair for the system to be constructed in such a way to favour any individual or party.

In April, during Li's meeting with legislators in Shanghai, he made a similar point that the Basic Law was drawn up after a thorough consultative process in Hong Kong 30 years ago, before any of the politicians or political parties now active here started their political life.

The four-sector composition of the Election Committee in the Basic Law represented the outcome of detailed consultation with a wide cross-section of Hong Kong's community. If the nominating committee is to be based on this same model, which represented a decades-old consensus, it would hardly be fair to argue that the system was pitched against today's democrats by design.

Li pointed out that, under article 25, the principles which must be observed are that the right to vote must be universal, equal and held by secret ballot. The expression of "the free will of the people" could only be secured where law - which is enforceable and respected by all - exists.

Li cited, as examples, elections in countries like Iraq or Thailand, where the outcomes were not respected by the voters. Thus, without the rule of law, the people's right to express their will could not be secured.

Finally, Li, who is also chairman of the Basic Law Committee, questioned the assertion - put forward by many to entice the pan-democrats to accept the NPC ruling - that Hong Kong people should pocket whatever arrangement is endorsed by the Standing Committee as "the second or interim best". He considered that whatever arrangements are endorsed by the Standing Committee should be viewed as the "best arrangements for Hong Kong" in light of the actual circumstances at this point in time.

Societies advance in the course of time. When the Athenians decided women, foreigners and slaves should not have the right to vote 2,500 years ago, that was perceived by the authorities then to be the most reasonable arrangement. So was the British decision to deny women the right to vote until 1928.

If the framework endorsed by the Standing Committee manages to secure the requisite support of our legislature, there is no reason to doubt that progress would come, and in a much shorter time span than in ancient Greece or Victorian England.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party


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This article is now closed to comments

Dai Muff
A democratic candidate can currently run only because he or she has no chance of winning, which will change if the public can vote. The chance of a winning democrat is precisely what Ms Ip and Beijing want to prevent at all costs.
Dai Muff
Ms Ip. Article 26 and Article 39 are pretty clear. Your obfuscations are not. There is EVERY reason to doubt that Beijing plans to keep its promises. And ALL women were not denied the right to vote in the UK until 1928. Between 6.4 and 8.4 million women had the vote in 1918 and accounted for 43% of the electorate as so many men had died in the First World War.
Love the line that: it was like this in Athens 2,500 years ago, so this is how it should be in Hong Kong in the 21st century.
Regina, a candidate can currently run for Chief Executive with the support of 12.5% of the Election Committee. If that threshold rises to 50%, is that not a step backwards? And therefore a very good reason to doubt that progress will ever come?
The two examples of unfair election systems (the Athenian's system 2500 years ago and the denial of women's right to vote in 1928) cited by Regina Ip tell us two things. One, she agrees that the system very likely to be adopted by Beijing is an unfair one. Two, she has trouble finding more recent examples of unfair election systems for her argument. Hong Kong certainly deserves much better than these ancient and long abandoned unfair systems.
Hong Kong may not get the election system she deserves despite all the effort by those who believe in Universal Suffrage. The people of Hong Kong have, however, demonstrated their tremendous courage by steadfastly refusing to be lied to. Well done!
@sk2: you've reversed the positions. The pan-democrats want precisely to allow, to enable ALL voices, ALL opinions through the only meaningful way possible - real democracy, ie where any person has an equal vote and an equal chance to stand for election. The pan-democrats are in no position to deny anyone anything - it is Beijing and its HK friends who, by denying real democracy, are not allowing others' views and opinions. Why doesn't Beijing and the HK governments trust their own people to elect their own leaders? They are putting their own self-interest ahead of their people. Why doesn't the Communist Party simply stand for election in its own name and allow the Silent Majority to show its support by electing it into power with real legitimacy? It's shameful for a government not to trust its own people and put its own self-interest first. That's why I say Regina and her friends are betraying HK. Otherwise, they would have the guts to allow a free vote and see if they truly represent the views of Hong Kong.
I think Regina Ip has finally lost it. Her desperation to become the next CE has blinded her to reality. Plainly, she is fighting to prevent democracy in Hong Kong. It's shameful that a leading HK politician like her should betray her own people.
Oh, she has a master's degree from Stanford, as she reminds everyone as often as possible. She's perfectly capable of excreting these smelly piles all by herself.
I am wondering who writes this intellectual gobbledygook for her
Regina, dun you feel ashamed of drawing upon the analogy between women been disfranchised for a few centuries and Hong Kong people thwarted fighting for genuine democracy to justify your fallacy? I am very sorry that women had been deprived of the very basic human right in the history. However, this misery should be applied to the context where Hong Kong people located.
It is no surprise that Li Fei would make these specious arguments, as he represents Beijing and its authoritarian system. The horror here is that a elected representative in Hong Kong would endorse these views. The argument that international treaties are entered into after great dispute so after it is implemented everybody can interpret it any way they want is surely nonsense. Even a weak version of the rule of law would be nonexistent under such a principle, as it is in China today. Le Fei is right that the system should not be constructed to favor any individual party. Of course, that is the problem using the Election Committee as the nominating committee does exactly that, favoring the establishment pro-Beijing camp. Of course Ip knows the claim that the Election Committee makeup enjoyed popular support 30 years ago is nonsense. Everyone then knew its makeup was imposed by the Beijing dominated Drafting Committee to favor the establishment camp. It is precisely this lack of honesty by Beijing officials and their establishment camp supporters that has caused all the distrust of them that is so prevalent in Hong KOng and encourages democrats to seek avenues around them. If they took seriously the commitment to universal suffrage and a genuine and fair and open process for the voters there would be no dispute. Beijing's non-interference in HK's autonomy and rule of law would likewise avoid the current unease following the White Paper.



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