Universal suffrage would ensure stronger mandate for chief executive, says business chamber

Chinese Manufacturers' Association chief says an elected leader is vital, and favours a system in which her chamber retains a powerful voice

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2014, 11:07am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 May, 2014, 3:08am

A chief executive elected by universal suffrage would enjoy a stronger mandate, but the electoral system should not be regarded as a failure even if no pan-democrat were allowed to run in the 2017 poll, a business chamber chief says.

“We believe that with universal suffrage, at least our chief executive would be popularly elected, be recognised by the public and be more representative,” Adeline Wong Ching-man, CEO of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association, told the South China Morning Post.

Wong, a former undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, suggested expanding the mandate of certain narrowly based subsectors in the nominating committee.

Wong also defended her chamber’s decision to file a submission that proposed only minimal changes to the model based on the existing Election Committee, saying it came after a consensus among members.

The association – one of the city’s four major business chambers – said last month that the nominating committee should have between 1,200 and 1,600 members. Up to four candidates should be put forward for the public vote, it said.

The chamber’s proposal was seen as even more conservative than its Legislative Council representative Lam Tai-fai’s opinion. In December, the lawmaker suggested creating a 2,400-strong nominating committee to put forward up to five hopefuls.

Wong said the association’s submission was based on its members’ consensus and their understanding that universal suffrage would help improve the city’s governance.

“We hope that the popularly elected chief executive will receive more support as he leads his team in implementing policies,” she said. “I think that if we fail to implement universal suffrage in 2017, the general public will be disappointed.”

But the chamber’s proposal is unlikely to be accepted by the city’s pan-democratic camp. Even the moderate pan-democrats have been calling for a lower threshold of support from nominating committee members – such as allowing seven to 10 candidates to be put forward.

In 2012, then Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan took part in a three-horse race after he won about one-sixth of support from the Election Committee’s members.

Asked whether Hong Kong would be seen as taking a step backwards if no pan-democrat were allowed to run for the chief executive election in 2017, Wong made reference to the occupational backgrounds of the city’s three leaders.

“Can people say it’s a step backwards if no businessman, civil servant or professional were allowed to run in the future? I think no one would accept ‘yes’ as an answer to that question,” she said.

“The most important thing is to design an electoral system based on what we want Hong Kong to be and what our law says … Then you can work hard on your election campaign based on these game rules.”

The election committee that elected previous chief executives comprised 1,200 members. Wong said if the membership of the nominating committee were expanded to 1,600, the additional 400 seats could be evenly distributed among each of the committee’s four sectors. For example, she said, the transport subsector’s mandate – which currently comprises only about 200 voters – could be increased.

But Wong did not recommend doing the same for the Industrial (Second) subsector, which is made up of some 800 of her association’s member companies.

She said it was “more appropriate” to limit that subsector’s voter base to only the chamber’s corporate members rather than to convert it to individual votes.

Chamber CEO rules out return to government

She was once seen as a rising star of the government and played an important role in the last round of political reforms, but Adeline Wong Ching-man does not see herself returning to public life.

Wong, now CEO of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association, served as a civil servant, rising to deputy director of the Home Affairs Department, before becoming part of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's political team in November 2009.

In her job as undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, she played a key role in 2010 in promoting the government's proposal for the 2012 Legislative Council election.

A last-ditch U-turn by Beijing saw a deal agreed based on the Democratic Party's idea of allowing voters who did not hold a vote in a functional constituency to elect five so-called super-seat lawmakers.

In 2011, Wong took charge of pushing through amendments to the privacy law in the wake of controversy a year earlier, when payment-card operator Octopus Card admitted selling the details of more than one million customers to its business partners.

But Wong decided to quit the administration when her tenure expired in June 2012.

"I made the decision at the end of 2011, which had nothing to do with the 2012 chief executive election," she said.

Wong, now 50, said she had intended to retire when she left the government two years ago.

"I was subsequently approached by various organisations and I chose the job of chief executive of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association last year," she said.

She is the association's first female chief executive since it was founded in 1934. "I decided to join the association because my previous experience in the government can apply to the new job," she said.

And she ruled out rejoining the government in future. "I thought it through before making my decision to quit the government," she said.