No disguising the fundamental flaws in Hong Kong's electoral reform package

Albert Cheng says wordy defence by liaison office chief won't sway Hong Kong people from values of openness, justice, and the pursuit of democracy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 May, 2015, 4:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 May, 2015, 4:59pm

Zhang Xiaoming , director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, recently put forward the most coherent and comprehensive case in defence of the electoral reform package for 2017.

He did so in a 6,000-word piece, published in Wen Wei Pao and Ta Kung Po under the headline "Promote universal suffrage with Hong Kong characteristics through confidence in the system". The wordy title is apparently borrowed from a speech by former president Hu Jintao , who told the party's plenary session in 2012 to place "confidence in the path, theories and system of socialism with Chinese characteristics".

Both Beijing and the Hong Kong authorities have stepped up propaganda efforts on the reform package, which requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to be enacted.

The local government's publicity drive, led by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has largely been counterproductive. In contrast, Beijing's chief representative opted to put pen to paper, eclipsing SAR officials in articulating why stringent barriers have to be erected to bar certain types from being nominated for the next chief executive election.

Zhang's so-called "confidence in the system" has three building blocks - "one country, two systems"; a high degree of autonomy under "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong"; and, the promising future of China's economic power and "national renaissance".

He hails the proposed method for electing the next chief executive as practical and the most democratic in the history of Hong Kong. In his view, it is completely compatible with the Basic Law and "one country, two systems".

Let's see what has actually been written into our mini-constitution. Article 25 stipulates that "All Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law." Article 26 further states that "Permanent residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall have the right to vote and the right to stand for election in accordance with law."

These provisions are the foundation for future direct elections of the chief executive. Under the present package, registered voters are not entitled to nominate any candidates. Instead, only 1,200 nominating committee members will be able to decide who is qualified to be vetted by them to become candidates.

Zhang could have described the proposed reform as a gradual step towards universal suffrage. But, it is not even a half truth to claim more.

He says Hongkongers should be optimistic about the reform for three key reasons. First, people should find the "one country, two systems" arrangement reassuring.

In recent months, Chinese officials have stressed that "one country" should precede "two systems". This view has been echoed by pro-Beijing elements in Hong Kong. National security has been cited as a consideration in how Hong Kong's ballot system should be devised. And even the independent operation of our judiciary has become a thorn in the side of Beijing officials.

According to the Hong Kong University's Public Opinion Programme, 63.6 per cent of respondents had confidence in "one country, two systems" in July 1997, just after the handover. That figure had slipped to 42.9 per cent last March. It's hard to claim that Hongkongers are still bullish about Beijing's supposedly hands-off policy.

Second, Zhang argued that we should have confidence in our own ability to administer the city. Yet, our first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, had to bow out in disgrace halfway through his second term of office. His successor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, has been embroiled in a controversy over alleged improprieties. Few would disagree that our current leader, Leung Chun-ying is the most unpopular of the three. And it is not just Leung; several key officials have either resigned or been involved in controversies over integrity. "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong" has been called into question.

Third, Zhang believes Hong Kong people should have confidence in China's determination to make the country wealthier and more powerful. Chinese mouthpieces have underlined the point that Hong Kong has been ungrateful for the economic benefits brought about by China's phenomenal growth. The younger generation, in particular, does not buy this. They see the influx of mainland visitors as a source of social conflict more than spenders in support of the local economy. The supposed advantages of a strong China for Hong Kong simply do not resonate with them. What they treasure more is Hong Kong's established values of fairness, openness, justice and insistence on pursuing a democratic system. Zhang's arguments have helped to fortify why the current reform package is unpalatable.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]