UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE
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Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Hong Kong government sticks to rigid Beijing framework in 2017 election proposal

Battle lines drawn as chief secretary unveils controversial electoral reform blueprint

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 6:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 10:31pm

There were no surprises as Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor rolled out what she called an equitable final political reform proposal in the Legislative Council today – a plan that was immediately rejected by most pan-democrats.

Contenders hoping to run for Hong Kong’s top job in 2017 will need just 120 votes of support from the 1,200-member nominating committee in order to qualify for consideration as candidates. However, hopefuls will need to secure support from at least half of the nominating committee and only the top two or three will go forward to the citywide poll to be elected by universal suffrage.

“Each nominating committee member can recommend one person and the number of recommendations one can get will be capped at 240,” said Lam, adding that the system could produce five to 10 candidates.

At the voting stage in the nominating committee, each of the 1,200 members casts at least two approval votes among all the contenders. The two to three potential candidates with the highest votes – with a minimum of 600 nominators’ approval – can stand in front of the whole population.

Lam said the formation of the nominating committee would be modelled on the existing election committee that is tasked to choose the chief executive. That is, the nominating committee will have 1,200 members, 300 each from one of the major sectors – business and commercial, professionals, political, and social and religious – under which there will be 38 sub-sectors.

READ MORE - The road to universal suffrage: A timeline of Hong Kong’s journey to votes for all

Lam said during the second round of consultation, which ended last month, the government received more than 130,000 submissions from various groups and individuals.

As to what happens in the event there is no candidate or only one hopeful with 50 per cent of the vote, or if more than three contenders win support of the nominating committee, Lam said those scenarios would be dealt with by local legislation at a later stage.

In the universal suffrage stage, there will be only one round of election, and the candidate with the most votes will win.

If the winner is not appointed by the central government, Lam says what follows depends on Beijing’s decision.

Room for improvement?

One key question asked by pan-democrats is whether Beijing will allow more improvements if the proposed model for 2017 is approved by the Legislative Council.

Lam made it clear that if lawmakers approve the proposal, it would mean the Basic Law’s provision on universal suffrage will have been met. That means there is no constitutional obligation to revise the electoral method unless the chief executive decides to launch a review.

Responding to a question by Liberal Party chairman Felix Chung Kwok-pan, Lam said: “It is very misleading to say ‘pocket it first’ means ‘pocket it for ever’.”

She insisted there is a legal basis and procedure for future chief executives to propose necessary amendments under earlier decisions laid down by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

Watch: Rival protests as Hong Kong government sticks to Beijing's framework in 2017 election proposal

Key Points

- Government officials attended 88 consultation meetings and forums, and received more than 130,000 written submissions during the second round of consultations between January and March.

- The composition and electoral methods of the 1,200-member nominating committee will follow the existing model of the election committee that selected the chief executive in 2012.

- The constituencies of 38 subsectors under the Nominating Committee (NC) will only undergo technical adjustments from the existing election committee during the local legislation period.

- Members of the nominating committee will serve a five-year term.

3 stages under government’s proposal for the 2017 election:

1. Entry stage

- Threshold for entering the primary within the nominating committee: 120 votes from its members

- Maximum number of votes an aspirant can get: 240

- A minimum of five and a maximum of 10 candidates can enter the primary

2. Primary under the nominating committee

NC members vote on each candidate using secret ballots. Each committee member has to cast at least two votes.

- The top two or three who get more than 50 per cent of members’ support can proceed to public vote

- The local legislation period will deal with scenarios when less than two or more than three aspirants get majority support

3. Public vote

- One person, one vote, one round

- Candidate who gets the most votes wins (first-past-the-post system). There is no need to get more than 50 per cent of the valid vote.

Responding to a question by legislator Christopher Cheung Shu-kun on whether the government would consider expanding the electoral base of the nominating committee, Lam said there was no room to amend the package.

“The government sees the package as reasonable and there is no room for change. And we hope to get public support,” she said.

Lam asked lawmakers not to miss out on the “golden opportunity” but pan-democrat lawmakers staged a walkout in a protest against what they consider “fake universal suffrage”.

Some 17 pan-democrat lawmakers left the chamber, shouting slogans against the proposal.

Radical “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats asked if Lam would advise the chief executive to dissolve Legco, which the Basic Law says can be done if the chamber refuses to pass a budget or any other important bill introduced by the government.

He also tried to give a toy horse dropping to Lam.

Lam replied by saying all lawmakers should stop being negative about the reform.

Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said pan-democrats would launch an “anti-pocket it first campaign” from today and added his party would definitely vote against the government package.

Responding to a question by unionist legislator Wong Kwok-hing, Lam said it was not for her to judge the performance of the pan-democrats over the course of achieving universal suffrage for the city.

Pathway to reform

To implement electoral reform, Hong Kong must go through a five-step process, as set out in the Basic Law and by National People’s Congress Standing Committee decisions:

July 2014: The chief executive reports to the Standing Committee on the need to amend the methods for electing the chief executive and Legislative Council

August 2014: The Standing Committee sets down a framework for the 2017 chief executive election

May 2015: The Hong Kong government tables its proposed amendments to Legco. A two-thirds majority is required for them to pass

Third quarter of 2015: The chief executive gives consent to the plan approved by Legco

Third quarter of 2015: The chief executive submits a report to the Standing Committee, either for approval (for changes to the chief executive election) 

But she said the pan-democrats should explain to the public why they had to vote against the package, which allowed Hongkongers to choose their leader by “one man, one vote”.

She said the government was happy to help arrange meetings for pan-democrats to meet Beijing officials on political reform, “especially if such meetings could be conducive to the passage of the political reform bill in the legislature”.

But she reiterated that there was no chance Beijing would withdraw its framework for the city’s political reform.

Important milestone

Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying said today marks an “important milestone” in the city’s democratic development.

The chief executive also promised to make district visits in the next two months to listen to public opinion on reform.

Ministers in his cabinet will be meeting the public later today and on Saturday, but commentators have been questioning whether the chief executive will be making similar arrangements as he previously said he will be in Malaysia at the weekend.

During the press briefing, Leung Chun-ying also unveiled the slogan of the government’s new campaign, “2017: Make It Happen” to garner the public and lawmakers’ support to achieve universal suffrage for the chief executive in 2017.

“I can say that today is an important milestone in Hong Kong’s democracy [development], because our package fits the Basic Law, the national legislature’s decisions, democratic spirit, and Hong Kong residents’ aspiration and demands ... I’m confident [that it will be approved by the Legco],” he said.

The city’s leader added that if the package is vetoed, it’s “very much uncertain” when the next electoral reform would be, how would it be done, and whether the central and local governments and Legco would support it.

The 27 pan-democrat lawmakers have vowed to veto the package, giving the administration a near-impossible task of winning over at least four of them to get the package approved by a two-thirds majority in the 70-strong Legco.

Before the Legco meeting, pro-government Federation of Trade Unions supporters chanted slogans outside the complex in support of the government, while pan-democratic People Power and Democratic Party members called for “genuine universal suffrage”.

Battle for public support

Lam said the government would “spare no effort” to reach out to the people to promote the reform package.

She admitted she had so far not been able to persuade pan-democrats to change their mind but remained cautiously optimistic. “Things can change, especially in the field of politics. We shall continue lobbying for their support,” she said.

She said public opinion would play a critical role and the government would make use of the next two months to promote the reform package to the public. She also noted that various polls had shown that more than half of people would accept a reform package in line with the NPCSC decision last August.

Lam said it was unknown when Hong Kong could have universal suffrage if the package was vetoed this time.

“I tend to agree with the view [that it is a step backward for democracy]” if the package could not get passed this time.

While both sides are going all out to win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers, three major universities will begin a comprehensive public opinion poll starting tomorrow to gauge exactly how much support there is for the reform package in its current form.

Tony Cheung, Stuart Lau, Ng Kang-chung, Joyce Ng, Peter So, Yonden Lhatoo