Will Hong Kong accept universal suffrage in 2017, in hope of increased democracy later?

Government hoping moderate pan-democrats can be won over before Beijing sets ground rules on 2017 election next month

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 11:36am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Government officials hope to use the weight of public opinion and the prospect of a more democratic electoral system in future to press moderate pan-democrats to accept a model for the 2017 chief executive election that does not guarantee a real choice between candidates.

The government is keen to get moderate pan-democrats onside before China’s top legislature next month sets out its framework for electoral reform.

Pan-democrats are worried that the National People’s Congress Standing Committee will require candidates to win a high level of support from a nominating committee stacked with Beijing loyalists. Such a decision would anger those who want the public to be allowed to nominate.

Because any electoral reform package requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature, the government must win over at least five of the 27 pan-democratic lawmakers. And the government believes public backing is crucial, given the high-profile opposition to any kind of compromise from some democracy campaigners.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the official in charge of the government’s reform push, has several times in the past week stressed that the election model used in 2017 would not be final and could be changed in future.

Lam also stressed the results of a survey last month in which 54 per cent of some 1,000 respondents expressed support for a one-man, one-vote system in 2017, even if the nominating process was unsatisfactory.

The poll was commissioned by the Concern Group for Public Opinion on Constitutional Development, a group of liberal-minded professionals including three Democratic Party members and Andy Ho On-tat, former press director for ex-chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

The group met Lam on Friday, and is expected to release the results of a second poll just before the Standing Committee meets to make its decision next month.

A government source said the administration was hoping support for an imperfect reform proposal remained high.

“It can put pan-democrats under pressure to compromise on political reform,” the source said. “The government proposal to be announced later this year may not meet the expectations of some people. Yet members of the public should appreciate the fact that our electoral system has been improving since the handover.

SCMP Debate: How could the chief executive nominating committee be more representative?

“We believe most Hong Kong people are pragmatic and want early introduction of ‘one man, one vote’.”

Lam stressed in an article for The Wall Street Journal this week that arrangements for 2017 would not be “final” and that there was no need for an “all or nothing” approach from those who want the public to nominate candidates.

“We hope that our legislative councilors will display political courage and pragmatism to bring about change and provide our five million eligible voters with the opportunity to select the chief executive by 'one person, one vote' in 2017,” she wrote.

However, the government source agreed that a hardline stance from the Standing Committee would limit the Hong Kong administration’s room for manoeuvre.

The committee has been tipped to limit the number of candidates running to three, and to insist that all of the candidates would have to win the support of more than 50 per cent of nominating committee members, each of whom could cast multiple votes.