Political reform: Are Beijing-friendly parties putting forward central government’s ‘bottom line’?

Parties' hard-line proposals for 2017 chief executive race have raised questions about the central government's bottom line on democracy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 May, 2014, 11:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Should the political reform proposals put forward by leading Beijing-friendly parties be taken seriously as representing the views of the central government?

The question arises after the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Federation of Trade Unions produced tough-sounding proposals that diverged widely from those of the pan-democrats.

The DAB suggested last week that candidates for chief executive in 2017 be required to win over at least half of the nominating committee members before they could go forward for the “one man, one vote” election.

Its long-time ally, the FTU, rolled out a similar proposal on Monday.

Political scientists have said a 50 per cent threshold would mean a contender with strong public backing but support from only a minority of committee members would have no chance of getting onto the ballot paper.

The city’s largest union even proposed requiring all would-be candidates to swear to uphold the constitution of the People’s Republic of China and the Basic Law. Previous chief executives have been required only to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the special administrative region.

Given the close ties between Beijing and the two groups many people in political circles believe their proposals represent the bottom line of the central government which has made it clear that those who are “confrontational towards the central government” cannot become chief executive.

But the blueprint expected to be presented by the Hong Kong government later this year needs a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council to pass, meaning some pan-democrats will have to be won over.

With the camp adhering to its demands for nomination rights for all voters and a low nomination threshold, any government plan based on the proposals raised by the two Beijing-friendly groups would stand virtually no chance of passage.

Jiang Shigong, deputy director of Peking University’s Centre for Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said there was a need to differentiate between the proposals put forward by those groups and the central government’s stance.

“It is natural for the DAB and FTU to roll out proposals from their own perspectives. At the end of the day, the Hong Kong government and central government need to forge a consensus on political reform,” he said.

A central-government-affiliated researcher, who has been canvassing political sentiment in Hong Kong, said the proposals put forward by the DAB and FTU only reflected the views of their supporters.

“They do not necessarily represent the stance of the central government although Beijing will certainly take their views into account,” he said.

Leaders of both the DAB and FTU were caught off guard by Beijing’s dramatic U-turn in June 2010 when it gave the green light to the Democratic Party’s “one man, two votes” proposal, under which candidates for five new seats were nominated by elected district councillors and voted on by the city’s 3.2 million voters.

FTU lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin agrees their latest proposals do not represent the views of the central government.

“If pan-democrats and the central government reach a deal on political reform, we would accept it,” he said. “We also keep an open mind on broadening the electoral base of the nominating committee.”