Beijing 'set to take hard line on Hong Kong's 2017 chief executive election'

Beijing insiders say central government wants to set a high nomination threshold for the 2017 poll

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 4:13am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Prospects for consensus on political reform look increasingly gloomy after Beijing-friendly figures lined up to convey a message that the nation's top legislature will set a conservative tone for the 2017 chief executive election.

Executive councillors Cheng Yiu-tong and Bernard Chan said on Tuesday that they expected the National People's Congress Standing Committee to require chief executive candidates to obtain support from at least half the nominating committee.

On the same day, NPC deputy David Wong Yau-kar and Basic Law Committee member Johnny Mok Shu-luen said such a requirement for aspiring chief executive candidates would be reasonable.

A source familiar with the situation said those remarks underlined the central government's concern about ensuring national security as Hong Kong moved towards universal suffrage.

"Beijing's top priority is to prevent people who confront it or even call for toppling the Communist Party from being elected chief executive. Hongkongers may not be able to comprehend this kind of consideration," the source said.

The source, who has knowledge of Beijing's thinking on Hong Kong, said the leadership could not take chances for the 2017 election, the city's first "one-person, one-vote" poll for the top job.

"The electoral system could only be relaxed, rather than tightened, in subsequent elections. That's why the central government would like to play safe in the 2017 chief executive election," the source said.

Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, will meet pan-democratic lawmakers this week and next to discuss electoral reform.

Pan-democrats are urging Beijing not to set stringent rules for political reform and are threatening to veto the government proposal in the legislature if it does not provide genuine choices for voters.

Members of the NPC Standing Committee are expected to meet between August 25 and 31 to lay a framework for the second round of consultation on the poll.

"A high threshold for nominating chief executive candidates is what Beijing wants but it remains to be seen if the Standing Committee will put it in black and white in its ruling later this month," the source said.

Hopes of securing the required two-thirds majority of lawmakers for the election reform proposal hang by a thread.

But there are suggestions that the weight of public opinion and the prospect of a more democratic electoral system in future could prompt moderate pan-democrats to accept a model for 2017 that does not meet all of their wishes.

According to a survey commissioned by the Concern Group for Public Opinion on Constitutional Reform, 55 per cent of some 1,000 respondents polled from July 21 to July 27 said they wanted a "one-person, one-vote" election in 2017 even if the nomination procedure was not satisfactory.

Former Democratic Party lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said Beijing wanted to ensure national security would not be undermined when universal suffrage was introduced, while pan-democrats opposed any screening of candidates in the election.

"Both sides should seek ways to address the concerns of the other," he said. "It won't resolve the problem if both sides keep expressing their long-held positions," he said.