HKU council controversy

Top HKU legal scholars split over democracy expert's plan for 2017 election

Professors offer arguments for a big or small nominating committee

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 2:07pm

Two top legal professors at the University of Hong Kong are split on a suggestion by a prominent international democracy scholar that the 70-strong legislature should become the nominating body for the chief executive election in 2017.

Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, dean of the university's law faculty, said Professor Larry Diamond's compromise plan was feasible as Chan regarded how the members were chosen as more important than the nominating committee's size.

Basic Law Committee member Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, one of Chan's colleagues at the HKU law faculty, disagreed. He said the intention of the city's mini-constitution was to create a nominating committee that was different from Legco and similar to the 1,193-strong election committee that chose Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

But Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, said small was better for the body that would put forward candidates for the first election of a chief executive by universal suffrage.

"It is better to have a small nominating committee that is capable of putting forward a genuine alternative candidacy for chief executive than a large body more or less like the current one that is not capable of doing so," he said, elaborating on his idea to the South China Morning Post.

Echoing the views of former civil service minister Joseph Wong Wing-ping, who also suggested constituting Legco as the nominating committee, Diamond said in a written submission to HKU that a low nomination threshold - of 10 to 12.5 per cent of the committee- would neutralise the over-representation of functional constituencies in the legislature.

Chan said it could be argued that a smaller committee would be more susceptible to manipulation.

"Yet the opposite is equally true," he said in an e-mailed reply. "A small committee means you need a smaller number to reach the threshold and this is easier to achieve."

Chan broke new ground in the reform debate as the first person to propose a 160-member nominating committee including all lawmakers.

He said his plan was more balanced than Diamond's as it also included directly elected representatives and members from the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

But Chen said he believed proposals to broaden the electoral base of the existing election committee - including those put forward by the Civic Party's Ronny Tong Ka-wah and himself - were more likely to be considered consistent with the legal framework.

Meanwhile, Diamond also suggested adopting a preferential voting system - which would allow voters to rank their choices instead of picking the winner through a simple majority - as this might ensure the winning candidate would not come from either end of the political spectrum.