Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Why we don’t have universal suffrage in 2020

  • Protesters can blame Beijing all they want but the opposition pan-democrats cannot escape responsibility for vetoing a reform package that would have allowed full suffrage for the legislature from this year onwards

If you randomly ask foreigners around the world why Hong Kong doesn’t have universal suffrage, insofar as they care at all, most or perhaps all of them would say it’s because of Beijing. If you ask Hong Kong people the same question, many would say the same.

But if you ask foreigners to give details about why that is so, most would not be able to. Most probably don’t know we have a limited or “hybrid” democratic system and assume Beijing lords over the city in all essential aspects.

I don’t blame them; I don’t really know how the electoral college system works in the United States. Isn’t it against the popular votes and therefore undemocratic? But at least I don’t think the US voting system is any of my business.

Many Americans, though, think our voting system is their business. Ignorance is why it has been possible to feed foreigners a narrative about Hong Kong via the mainstream global media that is simplistic and fundamentally false. Hong Kong people don’t have the luxury of ignorance. If they are honest, they should admit it’s a far more complicated story.

Explained: how Hong Kong’s Legislative Council has evolved

But you wouldn’t hear about that as thousands in Hong Kong celebrated on Sunday the re-election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, while waving American and British flags. They demanded universal suffrage for all legislative seats in the coming September election and threatened to call on foreign governments to sanction the city.

Rally organiser, the Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team, said the “unjust” functional constituencies, which return 35 lawmakers in the 70-seat legislature and have long been criticised for their “small circles”, should be scrapped. I suppose the Team neglected to mention that five of those seats belong to the District Council functional constituency, the so-called super-seats on which all eligible voters in Hong Kong can vote.

So, how come we weren’t working out since 2015 how to achieve universal suffrage for the legislature, with full constitutional commitment from Beijing? Answer: the pan-democratic opposition vetoed the government’s reform package, which would have allowed full suffrage for the legislature from 2020 onwards.

At this point, you would counter the model offered for the chief executive election was flawed and unfair. Maybe, maybe not. But as I said, the whole story is complicated.

If you want to get all high and mighty, you better get your story straight and true.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Why we still don’t have universal suffrage