How Woo Kwok-hing plans to jump-start political reform in Hong Kong

In an exclusive interview with the Post, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing says there is ‘a lot of room for manoeuvre’ on the model used in picking city’s leader, then the legislative system can be revamped

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 9:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 9:39am

There is “a lot of room for manoeuvre” in revamping the committee mandated under the Basic Law to nominate Hong Kong’s leader under universal suffrage, according to the first person to have entered the chief executive race.

But Woo Kwok-hing admitted the presence of such a committee was bound to have a “sieving effect” on candidates for the top job.

In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post on Monday, the retired judge who sent shock waves through the city last week when he announced his bid to be the city’s next leader, revealed his ideas on what should be done in democratising the electoral system.

Watch: Woo Kwok-hing’s live Q&A with political reporter Joyce Ng

Democracy could not be attained “straightaway”, Woo said, as he argued the city should first focus on widening the franchise of the 1,200-strong Election Committee that nominates chief executive hopefuls.

Article 45 of the city’s mini-constitution stipulates that the chief executive returned by universal suffrage should be nominated by a broadly representative nominating committee.

“There is a lot of room for manoeuvre within that provision” to make the committee “broadly representative”, Woo said. “And that is how consensus can be reached for that framework.”

What has caused the division and fragmentation of Hong Kong society over the past few years is actually political reform
Woo Kwok-hing

The Beijing-decreed political reform package imposed on the city two years ago triggered the Occupy movement as it suggested that only two or three candidates who secured majority support from the 1,200 strong committee – traditionally dominated by Beijing-friendly members – could run for chief executive. The proposal was voted down in the Legislative Council after strong opposition from the pan-democrats.

Woo admitted the nominating committee was bound to have a “sieving effect” unless it was elected by universal suffrage.

If the controversy surrounding the electoral model of the chief executive poll was settled, he said, the city could then proceed to revamp Legco.

The functional constituencies in the legislature, controlled by the business sector and Beijing-friendly camp, should be phased out eventually as they were “a residual of history”, he said.

Woo has been widely perceived as a single-issue contender as he did not provide a comprehensive election manifesto when he announced his bid last week.

Instead he emphasised the need to restart the political reform process. From this, he argued, “everything will fall into place very easily”.

“What has caused the division and fragmentation of Hong Kong society over the past few years is actually political reform,” he said, adding this would be the first issue he raised should he have the chance to meet President Xi Jinping.

Woo, formerly chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, acknowledged the value of the existing proportional representation system, though it had led to the legislature’s fragmentation.

The alternative first-past-the-post system, where the majority rules, might cause fewer divisions, he said, but it may not be suitable or fair as the minority would not have a say.

“With the proportional representation system, most segments of the population are represented. The more segments you have, of course there will be more diverse views, and greater fragmentation. But we don’t want one voice.”