Nod for Hong Kong's electoral reform would be used to legitimise unfair system

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 May, 2015, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 May, 2015, 5:07pm

The government's promotion of its political reform package, including Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's article ("At the crossroads", April 23), claims the pan-democrats will deny Hong Kong its leap towards democracy 25 years after universal suffrage was promulgated under the Basic Law.

I have lived in Hong Kong since 1983 and recall promises of universal suffrage. The nomination committee featured in the Basic Law from the beginning, but little attention was drawn to its role. Even if we had been concerned, we were told the committee had to be "broadly representative" and we believed it would simply nominate - shepherding through serious candidates while filtering no-hopers. We anticipated normal elections but understood that Beijing could trump the election if it didn't like the chief executive elect. Fair enough - that was the deal.

Twenty-five years on, words have drifted from their natural meanings: "broadly representative" now means "stacked", and "universal suffrage" means "selection from a pre-approved shortlist". We have been hoodwinked.

The government says its proposals are an advance on the appointment system for British governors, but this is a distraction: the true comparison should be with the expectation rather than the past.

The government's proposals are hardly historic. Far more historic is the betrayal of the original intention and the administration's failure to introduce measures to ensure the chief executive enjoys popular support. It suggests only appeasement and hope, with no assurance for future improvement.

I doubt the proposals will produce a chief executive who would not have been appointed under the current system, so rejecting them has no real cost. On the other hand, the proposals allow the electorate to be used to legitimise a winner who will only have beaten his even more unpopular nominated rivals. This will be portrayed as a demonstration of support when it was only a vote for the lesser of two evils. The real winner, if an open and fair vote had been allowed, may have been excluded. Rather than a golden opportunity, we may find the proposals represent something of a Trojan horse and it may be wiser to decline.

As for Carrie Lam's enticement that, unless we accept the proposals for 2017, we cannot have universal suffrage for the Legislative Council, that begs the question what sort of "universal suffrage" she has in mind. There's no point compromising now only to find that universal suffrage for Legco is a similar disappointment.

John Gale, Sai Ying Pun