Universal suffrage in Hong Kong
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Illustration: Craig Stephens

The key step to universal suffrage

On April 24, I announced the launch of Hong Kong 2020 to provide a platform for seeking views on how, as a community, we can work towards a consensus on the constitutional changes necessary to achieve full universal suffrage for election of the chief executive in 2017 and all members of the Legislative Council by 2020.

Members of Hong Kong 2020 have a long track record of promoting the cause of more democratic government in Hong Kong. In the coming months, we will build on this to reach out to as wide a cross- section of the public as possible, including representatives of the business sector, the professions, academia, district-based organisations and youth groups. Among other things, we will make maximum use of the internet to solicit public views and feedback on our emerging ideas.

We will then move on to develop a series of proposals for submission to the government on changes to the composition of Legco in 2016, on the election of the chief executive in 2017 and on elections to Legco in 2020.

We are approaching our task without preconceived ideas and we are ready to listen to different views and concerns. Our only bottom line is that the final package of constitutional changes must be faithful to the core principles of universal and equal suffrage. These principles are enshrined in Article 25(b) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is applied to Hong Kong by Article 39 of the Basic Law. They are also specifically safeguarded by Articles 26, 45 and 68 of the Basic Law which provide respectively for the right of permanent residents to vote and to stand for election, and for election of the chief executive and members of Legco by universal suffrage.

I have been asked by some why I still believe it is worthwhile to launch this new initiative, given that so many previous proposals for constitutional reform (including those developed under the auspices of my former Core Group in 2007 and its successor, the Citizens’ Commission on Constitutional Development) have basically fallen on deaf ears. The answer is very simple: I and my colleagues in Hong Kong 2020 remain passionate about the cause of universal suffrage; we believe that genuine universal suffrage, on the basis of “one man, one vote”, is the best means of giving legitimacy to the chief executive, securing good governance, maintaining our lifestyle and preserving the rule of law and the rights and freedoms we currently enjoy.

There is a lot at stake. If the final model of universal suffrage falls short of public expectations, the inevitable outcome will be increasing political discord and social disharmony. This will have consequences for Hong Kong’s economic prosperity and success as an international centre for trade and finance, which depend on stability and good, clean and effective government.

This is why it is important that our business community use their influence to help build a consensus in Hong Kong and to assure their contacts in Beijing that Hong Kong people can be trusted to exercise their votes judiciously, in the best interests of Hong Kong and the motherland.

In his election platform last year, our chief executive gave a firm commitment to proceed – in accordance with the “five steps” specified by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress – to reform the 2016 Legco functional constituency elections and expand the electorate to enhance the representativeness of the members. He also undertook to engage the public and seek to gain the support of the central government and Legco to achieve universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017 and lay the groundwork for election of Legco by universal suffrage in 2020.

But far from setting out a clear road map to the fulfilment of these promises, the chief executive repeatedly refuses to say when consultation will begin. More ominously still, a government source has recently suggested that the five-step process will not be necessary, because preliminary soundings with political parties indicate no strong views in favour of significant changes to Legco in 2016.

It is inconceivable that any of the prodemocracy parties would send such a message.

The fact is that significant changes to the composition and electoral arrangements for the 2016 Legco are essential if there is to be any chance of achieving full universal suffrage in 2020. Consequential amendments to the Electoral Affairs Commission Ordinance will need to be enacted at least 12 months ahead of the 2016 election and sufficient time will be needed to devise a package of proposals that can secure the necessary support of two-thirds of Legco members.

Changes to the composition of functional constituencies in 2016 are also essential to pave the way for establishment of the future nominating committee that will nominate candidates for election of the chief executive in 2017. Under the terms of Article 45 of the Basic Law, this committee must be “broadly representative” of the community, something which the current 1,200 member Election Committee clearly is not. A fresh approach will be required to ensure that the composition of the nominating committee reflects fairly the make-up of Hong Kong society and that anomalies such as corporate voting, which enable some individuals and entities to control multiple votes, are removed.

The failure of the government to take the lead in addressing these complex issues is frankly shameful. For our part, Hong Kong 2020 stands ready to support a process of consultation and reform that is open and transparent, inclusive of different views, and truly representative of the concerns and aspirations of the majority of Hong Kong citizens.

In so doing, we will spare no effort to help bring to reality the promises of universal suffrage which Beijing and our chief executive have made to the people of Hong Kong.

Anson Chan is convenor of Hong Kong 2020

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: The key step