Even moderate electoral reform ideas conflict with government's 'mainstream' view

Government says its report to Beijing reflects city's opinions on electoral reform, but it flies in the face of many of the proposals mulled so far

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 4:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 3:06am

Only one of the widely discussed moderate proposals for choosing a chief executive would be acceptable under a government definition of "mainstream opinions" in this week's report on views received in a public consultation on electoral reform, according to an analysis by the Post.

But one of the proponents of that proposal was pessimistic about even its prospects of becoming a blueprint for reform.

The report, delivered by the chief secretary, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, on Tuesday, said "mainstream opinion" was that the power to nominate chief executive hopefuls in the 2017 poll was vested in the nominating committee only, and that this power should not be "undermined" or "bypassed".

That interpretation of public opinion is seen as ruling out pan-democrats' call for granting all registered voters nominating rights.

It is also incompatible with the three proposals shortlisted for Occupy Central's unofficial referendum - put forward by the Alliance for True Democracy, People Power and student representatives - all of which say public nomination is indispensable.

Regarding the formation of the nominating committee, the government said there were "considerable views" that the number of seats should be increased in equal proportions across four sectors - business, professional, social and political - to enhance representation. (The sectors are modelled on those of the election committee that picked the current chief executive.)

This would eliminate proposals by the Civic Party's Ronny Tong Ka-wah, academic Albert Chen Hung-yee and think tank Hong Kong 2020. They proposed including either all 431 popularly elected district councillors, or 317 directly elected representatives.

That leaves a proposal by 18 academics as the only viable one, other than those proposed by Beijing loyalists. Under this plan, candidates who got signatures of support from 2 per cent of registered voters could have their names put to the nominating committee. If they then received the support of an eighth of committee members, they could stand for election.

Constitutional affairs chief Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the plan didn't bypass the nominating committee's substantive power. But Eric Cheung Tat-ming, one of the 18 academics, said the report's failure to state that there shouldn't be any "unreasonable restriction" on people's right to stand in the race made him worry about the prospects for reform. "Although the reports do not explicitly close the door on any proposals, the framework it has drawn - such as setting a high threshold to run in the race - does incline to the extremely conservative models."

"The main tone [of the report] implies that the election would be highly manipulative, with apparent screening, the law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong added.

Cheung said the central government might not want to see a big overhaul of the nominating committee. "We [the 18 academics] would rather maintain a low nominating threshold [one-eighth of the committee] with a not-much-changed committee, instead of a committee with new members but that comes with a higher threshold," he said.

Chen, a Basic Law Committee member, said the city still had a long way to go to come up with an election model that would win a two-thirds majority, the minimum votes required for it to pass in the legislature.

"Judging from the views expressed by Chinese officials since last year and the diverse opinions collected during the consultation exercise, I am not optimistic about a consensus being reached," he said.

Meanwhile, Lam was met by protesting students as she attended interviews at RTHK and Commercial Radio with Tam.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung, leader of the student-led group Scholarism, prepared mock secondary-education result slips for the two officials, which said they had attained top scores in physical education for "moving the goal posts".


Lawyers seeking to oust Law Society chief Ambrose Lam step up lobbying

Lawyers who initiated a vote against the Law Society president are stepping up their lobbying after it was revealed last week that he sought support to deplore a Bar Association statement on political reform.

An e-mail from some Law Society members calls on the city's solicitors to pass a vote of no confidence next month in Ambrose Lam San-keung.

The e-mail criticises him for "seeking to politicise the Law Society further by making unmeritorious [sic] attacks against the Bar" and demonstrating a lack of comprehension of what the rule of law entails.

The e-mail also condemns Lam for failing to defend judicial independence and creating the impression that the Law Society is "politically partisan" after he earlier backed the State Council's recent white paper on "one country, two systems".

The members' action came after Lam sent an e-mail to fellow Law Society leaders in which he called for it to deplore the Bar for going "against the principle of upholding the rule of law". He was referring to a declaration in which the barristers warned the government would "abuse the concept of the rule of law" if it rejected voters nominating candidates for chief executive in 2017 without offering alternatives to maximise public participation.

Solicitor Kevin Yam, who initiated the petition against Lam, said a growing number of lawyers had doubts about Lam continuing to lead the society despite the backing he was getting from some large firms.

"It is understood that heads of some big firms have called on their employees to actively vote in what they called a 'controversial' meeting [next month]," he said.

Jeffie Lam