Posted: May 14, 2013
Pan-democrats are doing their best to regain the initiative before their anti-universal suffrage opponents can capture too much more media attention and before too many more veteran democrats signal their exhaustion. Democratic Party founder Martin Lee’s proposal for the Chief Executive Election Committee was a wake-up call in this respect (May 2 post). The new Alliance for True Democracy is rushing to draft alternatives ahead of its original summer timetable. The alliance came together in March and so far so good … maybe. All pro-democracy groups and parties agreed to unite under its banner, but the most radical radicals (People Power/Frontier) are reserving judgment on the just announced preliminary blueprint.
The first draft: “2017 Chief Executive Election – Initial Views for Consultation,” was issued on May 8, as a seven-point statement of principles and suggestions.* Most striking is the idea that the much-maligned Chief Executive Election Committee should itself be elected by a universal suffrage election with all registered Hong Kong voters eligible to participate. This is the 1,200-member committee with its four-sector design, stacked in favor of pro-business and pro-Beijing anti-democrats, that elected Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in March last year. Martin Lee’s suggestion that this committee, unreformed, might be retained to serve as a Nominating Committee served as the wake-up call.
Attention is focused on the next election for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive in 2017. Beijing has promised that Hong Kong’s long-cherished goal of “universal suffrage’ will be allowed for this election and Beijing has run out of ready excuses. Or so everyone thought. With each possible political reform benchmark (dating back to 1988), there emerged some reason for delay. The promise of universal suffrage elections was nevertheless written into Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution (promulgated in 1990). Finally, in December 2007, after much agitation by pan-democrats for immediate redress, Beijing issued a formal decision. Accordingly, Hong Kong “might” (not shall or must) elect its Chief Executive by universal suffrage in 2017, and the Legislative Council in 2020.
Made wiser by long years of experience, pan-democrats proceeded on the assumption that they had a commitment, but also maybe that they didn’t. Suspicions have grown during the past two months as officials … current and retired, in Beijing and here … began making speeches about mechanisms and conditions. All were evidently intended to disqualify pan-democrats in anticipation of a 2017 “universal suffrage” election (March 25, April 2, April 18 posts). The Alliance for True Democracy’s preliminary blueprint was drafted in response to these recent Beijing suggestions and the fast-developing “anti-universal suffrage” campaign they have inspired.
THE SEVEN POINTS
Officials continue to say that Beijing remains committed to its pledge for a universal suffrage election in 2017 … albeit minus “confrontational” pan-democrats. The Alliance is pushing back with its statement of principles:
1.) The 2017 election should be conducted on the basis of one-person, one-vote, with a system that guarantees universal and equal rights to elect, be elected, and to nominate.
2.) In the formal nominating process there should be no preliminary election or filtering mechanisms. The right to elect, be elected, and nominate should not be affected by race, skin color, sex, language, religion, political or other orientations, social origin, or economic criteria. Non-objective conditions should not be established (like “loving China and Hong Kong” or “not confronting the central government”). Such considerations should be left to the voters themselves to decide when they cast their ballots.
3.) Strive to form a broadly-based representative Nominating Committee elected by Hong Kong people themselves on the basis of one-person, one-vote. Its size is not mentioned.
4.) Once the Nominating Committee is formed, a candidate can be nominated by one-eighth, but not more than one-sixth, of its members. The aim is to encourage the participation of as many candidates as possible and discourage a few from monopolizing the competition. Nominations should be made without regard to the economic or social sectors to which committee members might belong. Each member should nominate only one candidate. No limits should be set for the number of candidates.
5.) Candidates can also be chosen via individual signature campaigns with a certain yet-to-be-decided number of signatures, to be verified by the Nominating Committee.
6.) Once candidates are chosen, there might be two rounds of universal suffrage voting. If one candidate wins more than half the votes cast, that person is elected; otherwise a run-off would be held for the two candidates who receive the highest number of votes.
7.) Candidates can have political party backgrounds.
The proposal retains a Nominating Committee in deference to the Basic Law. Article 45 stipulates that “the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” Point Three of the Alliance outline nevertheless states that the Nominating Committee should eventually be abolished. People Power radicals object to its presence and want the committee scrapped sooner rather than later.
The draft emphasizes that designated sectors should not “under any circumstances” have a role in nominating candidates. This refers to the sectoral composition of the current Election Committee, which is based on the same occupational categories that also account for half the members of the current Legislative Council. By long-standing demand, pan-democrats want all these distinctions by sector and occupation abolished in both the legislature and in the Chief Executive election.
Point Seven of the outline also reflects a long-standing demand since Chief Executives currently cannot be members of political parties. Pan-democrats see this restriction as an obstacle to developing party politics and party-led government, and remain undeterred by the very real prospect of electing an underground communist party member to the post. An expanded draft of these proposals is forthcoming.
One pro-Beijing paper (Ta Kung Pao – 大公報 ) rushed into print the very next day with a rousing rejection. The Alliance’s seven-point proposal is “seven points of confrontation,” declared the editors, but their chief objection seemed to be the re-designed Election Committee. “The Nominating Committee Should Not Be Produced By One-Person, One-Vote,” proclaimed an even bigger headline.
Whatever their fate, however, the seven points may already have served an important purpose. Like Benny Tai’s civil disobedience idea, the Alliance’s demand for a completely different kind of Nominating Committee gives notice to all concerned that Hong Kong’s democracy movement leaders can no longer be placated with token reform measures as in 2010. This time around something more than incremental tinkering will be needed.
Transposing the Election Committee into a Nominating Committee will nevertheless be a major headache, given that all of Hong Kong’s pro-business and pro-Beijing interests will be upended in the process. Still, the idea of electing the Nominating Committee by popular vote has some interesting possibilities. Alliance convener Joseph Cheng Yu-shek could at least have some rhetorical fun with the idea, if only he and his colleagues were not trying so hard not to be extra provocative.
During the 2010 debate, for instance, a favorite tagline used by pro-government forum speakers was that Hong Kong should not aspire to a universal suffrage Chief Executive election because “even the United States elects its president indirectly” via the Electoral College. The Alliance might say that it would be happy with such an “indirect election” … provided the Election Committee agrees to be bound by the winner-take-all decisions of the popular vote that by tradition produces American presidents. But Joseph Cheng says his members don’t want to be accused (any more than they already are) of slavishly copying Western ways.
In any case, the real stumbling block is the Basic Law’s Article 45 that pan-democrats are resolved to respect. Article 45 ties universal suffrage to a Nominating Committee. In fact, electing such a committee … of maybe about 500 members … might not be that difficult. The main concern for pan-democrats is that direct elections need constituency lines and boundaries. Drawing them would be a major time-consuming task … unless those already in existence could be pressed into service. But unfortunately for pan-democrats, these are the small District Council constituencies, the very same that pro-Beijing and conservative forces now dominate, as proven most recently in the 2011 District Councils election.
The government and the main pro-Beijing political party also tried to use these constituencies, via the government’s 2010 electoral reform package, as building blocks for an eventual indirectly-elected mainland-style people’s congress system. It follows that pro-Beijing forces and their conservative allies might actually warm to the idea of using the District Council constituencies to elect a Nominating Committee once they think through the possibilities. Whether pan-democrats would want to take the risk in return for a popularly elected Nominating Committee is another matter …