Bleak decade ahead for Hong Kong without reform compromise

Mike Rowse says the pan-dems must heed the right lesson from 2010

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 April, 2015, 11:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 April, 2015, 11:00pm

I don't know how to convey this message gently so let me just come right out with it: the government is going to have to give a little ground on political reform and the pan-democrats must swallow their pride and agree to a formula that will allow the package to pass. It is essential there be real progress in the next two years, or Hong Kong faces a decade of obstructionism and turmoil.

That is the bad news. The good news is that possible compromise solutions are beginning to emerge. Let me outline one of them.

The Election Committee does indeed transform itself into the nominating committee with the structure and proportion of the four sectors remaining the same, but corporate votes are replaced by individual votes.

To become a prospective candidate - not an actual one yet - the individual must secure the support of a modest number of members, say 10 per cent.

Now comes the tricky part: turning prospective candidates into potential ones. Each of those who has secured the necessary minimum of 10 per cent - likely five or six - now has to secure the support of a certain number of members of the Legislative Council. A figure of 20 has been suggested.

The winnowing process gets us down to two or three candidates and the slate is put to the full nominating committee for a straight yes/no vote. The list must obtain the support of at least half of all the members. If it does, they become the actual names on the ballot paper put before the registered voters of Hong Kong for election by universal suffrage. If it does not, the whole process starts again.

The winner is the candidate who secures more than 50 per cent of valid public votes, if necessary after a second round of voting (i.e. if none of the two or three candidates gets over half the votes on the first ballot). He or she is then appointed by the central government.

What does the government have to swallow to make such a system work? First it must give up the principle of corporate voting, surely something that is hardly worth dying in a ditch for. It must also concede a role for Legco. Is that really a big stretch? After all, the winner is going to have to work with these guys for the whole of his term. At least a smidgen of support from the outset might be useful.

What about the pan-dems? Well they have to accept the metamorphosis of the Election Committee, and the 50 per cent threshold, plus the demise of civic nomination. But in exchange, they get the scrapping of corporate voting, a role for Legco akin to party nomination and the high likelihood of at least one candidate being acceptable.

What about Beijing? The Basic Law reigns supreme, the August 31 decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress is respected and the pledge of universal suffrage is honoured. Most importantly, their appointee has a mandate to govern Hong Kong effectively. And, safeguards are in place to ensure that all candidates are acceptable.

The one major fly in the ointment from the pan-democratic side is the experience of 2010. Then, the Democratic Party did sign up for a courageous compromise with Beijing that secured real progress but saw their candidates hammered at the polls in 2012. The lesson that the party seems to have learned was that any compromise is a form of political suicide. That was the wrong lesson, and this time round the public mood is different. People want the chance to vote, so pragmatists are more likely to be rewarded.

The message: don't go alone, take at least some members of other parties with you.

If anyone is interested, I have the WhatsApp contact of Ronny Tong. And if I am wrong and it does turn out to be suicide by a different method? Well, there's always the Samaritans.

Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. [email protected]