Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Beijing's 'ultra-conservative' reform plan disappoints former minister Frederick Ma

But former minister urges the pan-democrats to listen to public and support electoral format, despite its limitations, for benefit of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 September, 2014, 6:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 5:52pm

Former government minister Frederick Ma Si-hang said he was disappointed with the "ultra-conservative" framework Beijing had laid down for the city's first election by universal suffrage of the chief executive in 2017.

However, he called for pragmatism from pan-democratic legislators to support the reform model despite its limitations to give the city hope of better governance.

"The decision is obviously an ultra-conservative one," Ma told the South China Morning Post. "[However] I, as a citizen of Hong Kong, understand the rationale of [Beijing's] decision as a trade-off between an ultra-conservative proposal and the legitimacy of the chief executive in the future.

"Instead of sticking to [rigid] principles, I would really like [the pan-democrats] to think twice about the entire well-being of Hong Kong."

Watch: Frederick Ma: Pan-democrats should accept NPC political reform proposal

On August 31, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress laid down a tougher than expected blueprint, citing national security concerns, for the 2017 poll, which will be the city's first under universal suffrage. Only two or three candidates will be allowed on the ballot, while aspirants will be required to obtain majority support from the 1,200-strong nominating committee to stand.

It triggered angry responses from pan-democrats and the group's 27 lawmakers vowed to veto any government proposal that conforms to Beijing's demands.

The 62-year-old Ma - who headed the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau and the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau between 2002 and 2008 - admitted there would be shortcomings in any model that conformed to Beijing's framework. "I have always advocated for a more liberal approach," he said.

But he agreed the chief executive had to be trusted by Beijing.

Ma said in an interview with the Post last year that he supported allowing pan-democrats to enter the chief executive race in 2017, as in 2007 and 2012 when Alan Leong Kah-kit and Albert Ho Chun-yan stood.

Ma resigned from the administration in 2008 for health reasons, but he recently chaired an inquiry into the delayed high-speed railway to Guangzhou.

Last year, Ma suggested Antony Leung Kam-chung, the former financial secretary, might "stand a chance" of winning the city's top job if he ran in 2017.

Ma added that he looked forward to the changes in the political landscape driven by the popular vote, with candidates rolling out their policy platforms to win public support.

Meanwhile, he expected public opinion would remain fluid in the coming months ahead of the Legco vote on the government's electoral reform plan.

"They [pan-democrats] must listen to public opinion. [And] they must assess, if they choose to veto this proposal, what would happen to the governance [of] Hong Kong in the next five, 10 or 15 years," Ma said.

"If they do not follow public opinion, they may risk losing some seats, and [therefore] their veto power of being [the] critical minority in the legislature, in the Legco election in 2016."

Ma said much time had been wasted in filibustering efforts to block government bills while the city's economy was losing its competitive edge.

"Without one step forward, I am concerned governance in Hong Kong will be worse," he said. "The morale of the civil service will certainly be affected, some administrative officers - who are the cream of the crop - might choose to leave and the cabinet might only be able to attract mediocre [talent].

"Universal suffrage will not solve all our problems, but it gives us a chance [to move forward]."


Financial Secretary John Tsang urges all sides to compromise on reform

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has called on rival camps in the dispute over the electoral framework imposed by Beijing for Hong Kong's chief executive election in 2017 to make compromises to reach a win-win solution.

In his official blog yesterday, Tsang said it was natural that society would have different views on the electoral reform plans, but Hong Kong had to choose between either advancing the system or living with the status quo.

"Besides considering our own principles, we also need to consider the views of others," wrote Tsang. "We should not resort to [knocking out others] only by the number of supporters, the loudness [of our voice] or our might."

Although Hong Kong will be able to use one man, one vote to elect the chief executive in 2017, the National People's Congress Standing Committee says only two or three candidates can run and they will need majority support from a 1,200-member nominating committee.

"Compared to the prevailing system, it is certain that the universal suffrage proposal is a big advancement, not a chicken rib," wrote Tsang, referring to the Chinese proverb that describes something of little value as a chicken rib.

He cited Theodore Roosevelt's US presidential campaign in 1912 as an example of how to turn the table by thinking outside the box. His team, without authorisation, used a picture with copyright owned by Moffett Studios for a campaign pamphlet.

The team realised that to get around the copyright issue they would have to negotiate with Moffett. They wrote to Moffett, saying they were planning to distribute millions of pamphlets adorned with Roosevelt's photo on the cover and that it would be great publicity for the studio. The campaign team asked how much Moffett would like to pay for its picture to be used. Moffett offered US$250, thereby solving the problem.

Tsang said: "Often we are unconsciously confined to the mindset of a zero-sum game and forget there is a chance of making the cake bigger … If we can look at a problem from a different perspective, there is a chance we can come up with a win-win result that benefits both sides."

He was also concerned that the current debate would repeat itself in future if the issue was not resolved this time.

Ng Kang-chung