• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 1:56pm
NewsHong Kong

‘A sad day for Hong Kong and democracy’: Scholar slams Beijing’s reform plan

Professor Larry Diamond says decision to impose an Iranian-style rigged system for the 2017 election means no progress has been made on democratic reform

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 6:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 4:10pm

Calling it a “sad day for Hong Kong” one of the world’s prominent democracy scholars decried Beijing’s new restrictions on Hong Kong’s upcoming elections, saying they would fail to meet international standards for universal suffrage and could invite a public boycott.

This seems to be about the worst outcome imaginable. No progress toward democracy, not even a timetable toward democracy, and frankly, not even an effort to gesture toward democracy
Professor Larry Diamond

“This is a sad day for Hong Kong, and for democracy,” Professor Larry Diamond, senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said in an email interview. “This seems to be about the worst outcome imaginable. No progress toward democracy, not even a timetable toward democracy, and frankly, not even an effort to gesture toward democracy.”

Beijing plan allows it to essentially screen out unsatisfactory candidates. The international community, he said, will not consider an election based on Beijing’s framework as democratic unless the nominating committee permits candidates across the political spectrum to appear on the ballot.

“It is difficult to see how, under this Iranian-style rigged system, pro-democracy forces will have any chance of nominating a candidate of their own,” said Diamond, founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy.

“Unless a shockingly hopeful surprise emerges out of the nominating committee, I suspect that many Hongkongers will see the race as a contest between two slightly different flavours of vanilla and will boycott the election.”

At least two additional international scholars on law and politics said that the blueprint issued by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee failed to meet international standards on universal suffrage, as reflected in the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Diamond’s warning came one day after the Beijing committee rolled out a restrictive blueprint for the 2017 chief executive election. It ignored pan-democrats’ demands that the public be allowed to nominate candidates. Beijing also ignored the pleas of political moderates that chief executive aspirants be allowed on the ballot if they won just a fraction of the nominating committee’s support. Instead, Beijing raised the nominating threshold from the current 12.5 per cent to 50 per cent of the nominating committee.

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Professor Gerry Stoker, professor of politics and governance at the University of Southampton in the UK, said in an email that Beijing’s blueprint “fails on too many fronts to be satisfactory”. He said no restriction should be made on the number of candidates that can run, while it was also undesirable to use “narrowing and controlling devices” in selecting candidates.

“The essence of democracy is to trust the choice of the people, and attempting to direct who the candidates should be undermines that great virtue,” Stoker said.

Professor Graeme Orr, a law professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, said the 50 per cent threshold was “terribly flawed” and would make a future contest “a sham election”.

More civic protests, he said, would not likely soften Beijing’s stance, he said in an email, but civic pressure might encourage the nominating committee to use its power wisely.

Beijing’s move was also subtly criticised by US officials. A spokesman for the US Department of State in Washington, DC said that the US believes that the chief executive’s legitimacy would be greatly enhanced if universal suffrage was fulfilled and if the election provided Hong Kong people a genuine choice of candidates representative of the voters’ will.

“We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity," the spokesman said.

Beijing’s blueprint would cap the number of chief executive candidates at two or three. The nomination committee would be modelled on the composition of the previous election committee, which was heavily dominated by the Beijing-loyalists.

All 27 pan-democratic lawmakers in the 70-member Legislative Council have vowed to veto a government election plan if it’s based on Beijing’s framework.

Such restrictions on voter choice, Diamond said, makes Hong Kong’s election system akin to Iran’s, where the Guardian Council, a body appointed by the supreme leader, decides who can run for president.

Li Fei, deputy secretary-general of the national legislature, defended Beijing’s decision yesterday in a public forum in Hong Kong. He said that no unreasonable limitation had been imposed on city elections.

Diamond, who once supervised the master’s thesis of executive and legislative councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, said he had reservations about the Hong Kong government’s call that residents should “pocket” the unsatisfactory reform package first to at least secure the prospect of “one man, one vote” in 2017.

“I don’t see what reform there is to ‘pocket’. This is not a democratic reform,” Diamond said. “I do not see in this announcement an invitation to negotiate a future timetable for reform. It’s simply an authoritarian imposition.

“The decision is tantamount to lifting a giant middle finger in the face of pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong asking for serious political reform, saying: ‘We have the power, we can do whatever we want, and if you don’t like it you can leave,” said Diamond. Beijing, he said, made no effort to enlarge the base of the nominating committee, nor did it set a timetable for further reforms. Diamond said he disagreed with the notion that the reform would be historic progress for Hong Kong, as suggested by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who spearheaded the reform taskforce.

“I not only don’t see historic progress, I don’t see any progress,” Diamond said. “What is historic about this decision is the tragic loss of an opportunity to seek consensus around a strategy and timetable for meaningful democratic reform.”

Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) expressed its regrets towards the NPCSC’s framework which it said had dashed Hongkongers’ hope for democracy and baffled the city’s democratic progress.

Watch: Protesters and lawmakers react to Beijing's dictum on leadership reform


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This article is now closed to comments

This article is not about Hong Kong under Britain - which handed over Hong Kong to China nearly 20 years ago. In any event, (i) Britain never promised Hong Kong universal suffrage, unlike China and (ii) it is well documented that the principal reason why Britain never offered any kind of democracy to Hong Kong until Chris Patten was because China strongly objected. You can't have it both ways.
China on the other hand has solemnly promised universal suffrage to Hong Kong by laws enshrined in the Basic Law, a law which it drafted. It has now reneged on its promise and is wriggling around trying to say that "black is white" again.
Dai Muff
You guys really have to do better with your invented British and Japanese names. All the places you mention are better off than we are. And you love to use the example of Scotland, ignoring the fact that they are FREE TO LEAVE and Hong Kong is not. So your example shoots itself in the foot. You could always put your money where your mouth is and have a free and full referendum on Hong Kong's future too.
Dai Muff
Oh God, it's the tedious CCP textbook. So very very dull. This is why we don't want "National Education".
This article is about Hong Kong's "democracy". Your comments are totally irrelevant to the article.
(And even if your comments have any substance (although they are actually what one would expect from an ignorant drunk in the pub), are you saying that just because the US has imperfect democracy, it's acceptable for Hong Kong to have similar? Surely, Hong Kong deserves better - inferior democratic systems in the evil West are no excuse for an inferior system in Hong Kong.
Also, please remember that, when Chris Patten introduced a measure of democracy in Hong Kong just before the handover, his biggest critic was none other than China. So what is it to be, it's terrible that Britain never introduced democracy to Hong Kong, or it's terrible that Britain DID introduce a measure of democracy to Hong Kong?)
S. Rogers
As an American (please accept my pre-apology) who has been involved personally and professionally with China since 1976, I can tell you that the vast majority of people in the USA (including in every part of the government) don't know or care enough about the political situation in Hong Kong to interfere in it one way or another. The number of people in the general population who know anything about the current issues in HK is so small that it has no political impact at all in the US. There are **VERY** small numbers of people in specialized areas of a **FEW* government agencies who know something about it, but they can't get the attention of anyone with real power. The same is true in academia. Any talk of "US interference" in Hong Kong is utterly uninformed about the political reality in the US.
There is no significant attempt by any western government to attempt to influence events in Hong Kong. It's simply not on their radar scope. Most of all, the English speaking west (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, etc.) wants stability in China - they are their biggest buyers of debt, largest market, largest supplier, etc, etc. How does instability in China help the West? Such nonsense - get your head out of the Opium Wars. 160 years have passed.
Dai Muff
You guys keep coming out with this garbage about how Britain is fomenting dissent here when the most disgusting thing about the British is that they have ignored us, still kowtow to Beijing, and leave us at the mercy of your masters. If you think David Cameron is supporting Hong Kong's people you are insane. We barely even make the news reports most nights.
A Hong Konger
The Pan-Dems are wasting their time attempting to even communicate with Beijing, the outcome was a foregone conclusion and any 'offer' Beijing makes will be even more draconian. There is simply no way China will acquiesce anything to HK, which they only seek to exert more control over as time goes on. They are neither competent or pragmatic, they are afraid of us and do NOT KNOW how to effectively manage Hong Kong. This failure of governance complete de-legitimises Beijing's rule.

What the Pan-Dems should do, in addition to blocking odious legislation (their only option in LEGCO) and holding protest is to form an opposition government to clearly demonstrate that they are able to form a working alternative to the joke we have now. This shadow government, like opposition parties in credible democratic governments overseas, should comprise of ministers and a head that can take power when this miserable failure of a government falls under the weight of its own incompetence. It will also provide excellent experience for them, even if it is only in mock form.

An expression of our indignation is fine, but we have many forms of those, it is time for the Pan-Dems to show us leadership and show Beijing we have a backbone.
Jesus, Mikado.
Why do you still compare with the British colony. The Brits are foreigners and HK was a colony. Why would they give HK democracy? Ironically it's this suppression that you got to live in the comfort called Hong Kong and write in English.
But today we have returned to our motherland and still got the colonial treatment by our own race even after we were promised democracy under the eyes of the world.
Blame the Brits' stupidity assuming China would have the same interpretation of the word democracy.
Comparing the two merely demonstrated you level of education at Form4 at best.
****** whoever you are
You must have been born after 1997.
The injustice of the colonial government included:
1) a housing policy that gave all Hong Kong people shelters
2) an education system (deteriorating at speed of light post 1997) that put HK's economic competition at world level
3) left HK with a billions & billions cash reserves
4) gave HK a clean government with the establishment of ICAC
5) gave HK people a culture they adore. They still do. Look at Regina's dress and Rita's race horse. Ah, CY's daughter's school
6) gave HK young people the opportunity to buy their own flats
7) last but not least.....gave HK the political shield against Communism
8) if you were born pre1997, spared you the robotic lessons on National Education
Think HK would have been like this successful if not under the colony?
don't **** your head with your nationalistic view.
Now compare the above post 1997.



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