Posted: Jan. 13, 2014
The mainstream Alliance for True Democracy [ 真普選聯盟] promised an upgrade of its initial 2013 reform proposals before the end of the year. Had they met their deadline, the 2014 New Year’s Day march might have achieved what organizers hoped … by providing a strong show of popular support for the democracy movement’s united stand. A second response came in the form of a point by point rebuttal, criticizing the government’s Consultation Document on the coming electoral reform exercise. The unexpectedly strong statement was issued jointly by retired civil servant Anson Chan’s “Hong Kong 2020” discussion group and the Civic Party.
ATD’s CHIEF EXECUTIVE ELECTION PLAN
The Alliance for True Democracy, led by 26 of Hong Kong’s 27 Legislative Councilors who represent the combined forces of the democratic camp (minus odd-man-out Raymond Wong Yuk-man), have come together in a (more-or-less) united response to Beijing’s widely reported guidelines for the 2017 Chief Executive election. These guidelines are, first and foremost, that all political reforms must adhere to Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution. Also, Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive to be directly elected by universal suffrage must be someone with “patriotic” credentials, meaning the person must not be opposed to China’s system of one-party communist dictatorship. Finally, Beijing says that the same 1,200-member “safe” Election Committee that has endorsed approved candidates since 1997, should serve as the Nominating Committee for the 2017 election.
These guidelines would effectively nullify the promise of a direct universal suffrage election. They have been presented in multiple ways throughout the past year, most recently by Beijing official Li Fei who came to explain in person. They also formed the thinly disguised assumptions underlying the Hong Kong government’s Consultation Document issued early last month (www.2017.gov.hk).
Announced on January 8, the ATD’s three-track Chief Executive election plan focuses on the all-important nominating process and combines the main demands that have emerged during the past year of public discussion and debate: (1) civil or public nomination; (2) political party nomination; and (3) Nominating Committee nomination. (http://www.atd.hk/).
Civil nomination would entail a signature campaign with prospective candidates needing the signed endorsement of 1% of all Hong Kong registered voters. The Nominating Committee would then be required to endorse him/her.
Political party nomination would allow any party or group to nominate a candidate … if it receives at least 5% of the total votes cast in the coming 2016 Legislative Council election (counting only votes cast for the directly-elected seats). The Nominating Committee would also be required to endorse this kind of nominee.
Nominating Committee members would themselves be allowed to nominate candidates independent of the civil and political party nominating alternatives
The ATD plan does not emphasize any one of the three tracks, and is apparently willing to accept a simple name-change for the existing Election Committee. The plan says only that it would be “better” if the committee could be “more democratic” than it currently is. Long-suffering ATD convener Joseph Cheng Yu-shek [ 鄭宇碩 ] has also said, repeatedly, that the Alliance does not aim to challenge the “power and authority” of the committee. But the patriotic requirement to “love China, love Hong Kong” would be tantamount to political censorship and is declared unacceptable under this plan.
Concerning the election itself, any candidate who won 50% of the votes cast would be declared the winner. If no one received that number, a run-off would be held between the top two candidates. The winner would need only a simple majority of the votes cast in the run-off. The ATD plan also says, without elaboration, that the existing requirement banning political party membership for Chief Executives should be abolished.
As a formality, the ATD demands that the Hong Kong government include this election plan in its next round of consultations, which is supposed to incorporate public views generated during the first round. The Hong Kong government has an old habit of overlooking some of the inconvenient submissions it receives during consultation periods … such as that just launched by its much-maligned Consultation Document.
Retired top civil servant Anson Chan Fang On-sang [ 陳方安生 ], her Hong Kong 2020 discussion group, and Civic Party lawyers are masters of the allusive elliptical prose that disguises most formal political presentations here. But not this time. They’ve teamed up to produce an uncharacteristically blunt 20-page critique of the government’s Consultation Document and call their alternative “Finding the Right Path to Universal Suffrage: What the Government is NOT Telling You” (www.2017.hk). *
The policy paper was announced at a press conference on January 6. Declaring that “we will not be fobbed off with another half-baked consultation exercise,” they say the government’s document fails to state the legal basis for universal suffrage and is not sincere in saying it still has an open mind. If we do not speak up now, they declare, “we will never have a system that guarantees the free expression of the will of the electors.” Such a system is needed because Hong Kong’s core values are being “undermined day by day” and people feel “increasingly powerless to prevent further erosion of our way of life.”
The government’s Consultation Document, they say, fails to explain that the international definition of universal suffrage is actually written into the Basic Law itself.
The government argues that the Basic Law’s reference to the need for a “broadly representative” Nominating Committee once universal suffrage is achieved means that the committee should be just like the existing Election Committee. Hong Kong 2020 points out that the existing Election Committee is not representative by any stretch of the imagination and calls for the committee to be redesigned accordingly. It “should be elected by broad based and genuinely representative constituencies.”
The government argues that the Basic Law’s reference to “democratic procedures” for universal suffrage nominations means that the Nominating Committee must nominate as a “collective.” Hong Kong 2020 points out that the Basic Law makes no reference to collective nomination. This is a new concept never before mentioned with reference to Chief Executive selection procedures. Hence the term and its provenance need explaining.
Otherwise, civil nomination, political party nomination, and the current Election Committee method of nomination (by one-eighth of its individual members) all meet the Basic Law’s demand for nomination “in accordance with democratic procedures” … assuming the committee itself can be reconstructed.
On reforming 2016 electoral methods for the Legislative Council (due to be wholly elected by universal suffrage in 2020), the critique is equally forthright. It accuses the government of ignoring the widely held view that the special-interest Functional Constituency (FC) seats should be completely abolished by 2020 because they are incompatible with the concept of universal suffrage. The council is currently composed of 35 directly-elected Geographical Constituency seats filled on a one-person, one-vote basis; and 35 FC seats. Of the latter, 30 are old-style representing special interests. The seats are filled via a bizarre mix of corporate and individual votes totaling 238,000 electors in all.
The remaining five FC seats are new-style. They represent the abortive attempt by the government and pro-Beijing loyalists to begin replacing FCs with District Councilors indirectly elected by their fellows. There are 400+ total. This “District Councils model” of electoral reform was defeated in 2005 and the government brought it back for another try in 2010. A compromise was worked out, brokered by Democratic Party leaders representing the democratic camp. According to their compromise, five Legislative Council seats would be filled by District Councilors, nominated by their fellow-councilors but voted on by the entire citywide electorate. The 2012 Legislative Council election was conducted accordingly.
The Hong Kong 2020/Civic Party team comes out strongly against the government’s apparent desire to recycle this idea for a third time in 2016 … albeit still without anyone identifying it for what it is, namely, the mainland People’s Congress-style of universal suffrage. This is based on small basic-level constituencies voting directly, with indirect elections for all those above and communist party officials in charge of everything including candidate-selection at every level from top to bottom.
The critique also calls for the abolition by 2016 of the Legislative Council’s “two-house” system of voting. This gives FC legislators veto power over those directly elected by the people. The government says it has no plans to change this system.
FOR THE RECORD ONLY?
Unfortunately for the success of their cause, the Hong Kong 2020 team’s critique makes three key points that others in the democratic camp are either not articulating or not discussing so forthrightly. These are: that the Election/Nominating Committee should be redesigned if it is to be used at all; and that the District Councils model of electoral reform should not be adopted as a substitute for the Legislative Council’s FC seats. The third point comes in the form of a warning about the precedent-setting nature of the 2017 election. Notes the critique in conclusion: don’t succumb to the siren song of compromise, sounding in many quarters, that says it’s better to go along now and fight for more later. There won’t be anything left to fight for later. “The system for electing the CE in place for 2017 will continue at least till 2047; these matters affect our next generation.”
As for the mainstream ATD’s plan, perhaps one reason people didn’t bother to turn out in force on January First is that the disagreements within the Alliance had already been widely reported and an air of resignation is settling over the whole reform effort. Everyone has been through this before. The same split between moderates and radicals that divided pan-democrats in 2010 … after so much civil society effort went into holding them together … has been apparent for months.
The key questions dividing Alliance members ahead of the roll-out on January 8 and during the press conference announcing it were the decisions to leave the Election/Nominating Committee as is with a limp “the more democratic the better” aside, and without any demand that the other two nomination alternatives must be allowed.
“Radicals” (League of Social Democrats, People Power, Neo-Democrats) wanted the three forms of nomination bundled together with the proviso that none can be dispensed with [ 缺一不可 ]. Democratic Party leaders are the loudest “moderate” voices refusing to be bound by any such promise. Democratic Party leaders, unwilling to let sleeping dogs lie, are also still openly fighting the last election and have taken to arguing that had they not broken ranks to compromise in 2010, Beijing would likely have gone back on its 2007 promise to allow universal suffrage in 2017.
Additionally, Democratic Party leaders continue to make strange comments about being satisfied if only a pro-democracy candidate is allowed to join the Chief Executive contest, although they know such a candidate could never win!? … If that’s really their bottom-line demand then they, along with Beijing officials, need to explain how 2017 will be any different from 2007 and 2012. The existing Election Committee (via its one-eighth of the membership rule) endorsed a pro-democracy candidate to join the Chief Executive selection contest on both those occasions.
With Beijing’s conditions and moderates’ compromise negotiating position already announced, everyone else is beginning to conclude that the game is over almost before it has begun.
* The Chinese title is even more provocative: 普選路,不向左：解毒政改諮詢文件.