Universal suffrage debate hinges on who nominates candidates for top job

Who sits on the nominating committee that will pick chief executive candidates is trickiest issue

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 4:30am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 2:08pm

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is scheduled to kick off a lengthy and momentous debate today, asking the public how the city should attain universal suffrage in 2017 when it elects its chief executive.

Over the next five months Hong Kong's government will canvass voters as the city prepares the nominating and election process. The city must wrestle with how many candidates should be allowed to run, the composition of the nominating committee and how that committee might whittle down the contenders.

The most contentious issue could concern making the nominating committee more representative of the population while sticking to Beijing's request for "balanced participation".

Last week Basic Law Committee member Albert Chen Hung-yee suggested giving all elected district councillors seats on the nominating committee. He also proposed that the city expand the electoral base of the nominating committee beyond the current Election Committee to include company directors and labour union members.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, says Chen's proposal risks violating the principle of balanced participation. Such a committee might be likely to tilt more towards the political sector if all district councillors had seats.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee said in 2007 that the composition of the nominating committee could resemble the existing Election Committee. The current 1,193-strong Election Committee was chosen by about 250,000 voters.

The Election Committee includes representatives from four sectors: the professions; industrial, commercial and financial; labour, social services and religious bodies; and legislators, district councillors and Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress. Each sector has about 300 committee members.

The Hong Kong government argued in 2005 that "balanced participation" was not equivalent to "participation in equal numbers" when it recommended including all 529 district councillors on an expanded 1,600-member election committee that will choose the city's next chief executive in 2017.

A government task force said in 2005 that the committee should truly represent the city. "The composition of district councils can be said to be a microcosm of the community at large. It epitomises the spirit of 'balanced participation'," the task force said. "We cannot merely focus on the number of seats [of the election committee] allocated to various sectors of the community."

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, says including elected district councillors would be a pragmatic way to broaden the electoral base of the nominating committee.

"It would be the pragmatic and readily available option to broaden the electoral base of the nominating committee," Choy said. "The proposal put forth by the Alliance for True Democracy, to elect committee members through a city-wide election, is a better approach. But it takes a lot of time and resources and may not be worth it."

The plan was among the three proposals tabled by the alliance in July.

Another proposal suggests giving seats on the committee to legislators and district councillors. A third proposal would add all district councillors to the existing 1,193-member election committee.

Wang Zhenmin, dean of law at Tsinghua University and a former member of the Basic Law Committee, gave a seminar to about 70 civil servants yesterday on the Basic Law.

A source who attended the seminar quoted Wang as suggesting that "there is little chance" of the pan-democrats' public nomination idea winning official support.