Legal scholar calls for compromise

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 5:26am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 5:26am

Parties across the political spectrum should focus on reaching a compromise on how to elect the chief executive in 2017, a former University of Hong Kong legal scholar says.

The controversial idea of public nomination - allowing registered voters to propose candidates - was not essential for democratic development, said Carole Petersen, now a law professor at the University of Hawaii.

Its proponents would find it hard to secure enough support in the legislature, she said.

But reform is necessary, she said, warning that the city would become ungovernable if it stuck with the current electoral system.

"The biggest problem in Hong Kong is that the chief executive does not have a broad mandate and therefore we see frequent conflict between the chief executive and the Legislative Council," said Petersen, former director of HKU's Centre for Comparative and Public Law.

Due to the lack of legitimacy, even good policies were doomed to fail, she said.

"It is only natural that Legco is going to be unwilling to offer support to a chief executive who is not elected through a democratic process." If Hong Kong became ungovernable, China's reputation on the world stage would be harmed, she warned.

While Petersen agreed that public nomination was desirable as it would enhance public confidence in the system, she said it was not essential for the goal of making progress on democracy.

Beijing loyalists insist that public nomination would go against the Basic Law, which states that a "broadly representative" committee shall have the power to nominate candidates.

Petersen said the nominating committee must be truly representative of the voting public, without imposing unreasonable thresholds on the nominating process, in order to meet international standards.

For instance, it was undemocratic to require the support of every sector represented in the committee - commercial, professional, social and political - in order that a candidate could contest the public ballot, as suggested by Beijing-loyalist lawmaker Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun.

That would allow any one sector to screen out a candidate who secured support from the other three sectors, Petersen noted.