Posted: April 1, 2014
A week ago the way out of Hong Kong’s electoral reform predicament seemed to be taking shape. It would entail some form of popular nomination for Hong Kong’s first “universal suffrage” Chief Executive election in 2017, to be paired in some way with some sort of Nominating Committee (March 26 post). Pro-democracy activists want the former while national leaders in Beijing have staked the future of communist party rule throughout all China on the committee idea … despite the dubious underpinnings of their legal arguments (Feb. 14 post).
Hong Kong’s National People’s Congress delegates then began making their way back to Hong Kong from the annual NPC session in the capital and proceeded with their instructions to “energetically” promote Beijing’s intentions on electoral reform (March 11 post). Arriving along with them en route from Beijing was yet another Basic Law professorial expert who reinforced the absolutist message before a high-powered audience of 300 political movers and shakers here. No deal, was the message from Beijing, not even a moderate one. Nothing but a Nominating Committee would do, the candidate must be a loyalist, and no one would be able to qualify as a candidate without endorsement from 50% of the committee members. This last echoes views in Beijing, circulating for months, which would effectively block all but approved candidates (China Daily, Dec. 13, 2013).
The hard-line message was followed by soothing words from Jasper Tsang Yok-sing. Tsang is the pro-Beijing politician who carried his professed bridge-building mission so far last fall that it earned him a stern rebuke from partisans on his own side of the political fence. He had allowed himself to be quoted as saying that Beijing would do well to exorcise its “inner demon” fears about democracy activists since they were already contained here and could do little harm to anyone anywhere (Oct. 24, 2013 post). Not too flattering for pan-democrats. But he is now saying that probably Beijing has not yet made any final decisions on the 2017 Chief Executive election.
Also in his role as bridge-builder Tsang Yok-sing is currently trying to convince all 70 Legislative Councilors to accept an invitation to visit Shanghai, courtesy of the Chinese government, where they can count on being wined and dined while the costs and benefits of acquiescing or not are impressed upon them. The mixed signals suggest that all has not yet been decided, that Beijing is trying to drive as hard a bargain as possible following the same negotiating tactics as during the 2010 reform cycle with the usual threats and olive branches … which means further that for now the pro-democracy camp should carry on as they were.
The mainline Alliance for True Democracy has been working for a year to draft proposals that everyone can accept … everyone being the 27 pro-democracy members of the Legislative Council along with the parties and groups they represent. The only drop-out so far has been People Power’s Raymond Wong Yuk-man at the far radical end of the pro-democracy spectrum.
The Alliance tried to accommodate all pan-democrats with three different proposals … all of which initially included BOTH a Nominating Committee and some form of popular representation in the nominating process. The final Alliance proposals announced in January this year are considerably different from those first drafted last spring and announced in July. Changes reflected both the popular demands that grew during the intervening months for direct public participation in the nomination process, and Beijing’s persistent opposition to those popular demands.
The Alliance’s three draft options announced in July 2013:
1.) A 1,500-member Nominating Committee made up of the existing four-sector Election Committee (that has been endorsing Beijing’s approved Chief Executive candidates since 1997), plus all 400 of Hong Kong’s elected District Councilors; and/or public nomination via a signature campaign for all registered voters. The relationship between the signature campaign and the Nominating Committee was not clearly specified.
2.) A 400-member Nominating Committee directly elected by all Hong Kong registered voters.
3.) A 500-member Nominating Committee composed of all 70 Legislative Councilors and all elected District Councilors; and/or public nomination via a signature campaign as in option one (facebook pages, Alliance for True Democracy).
Option Two was soon abandoned for being too ambitious … but so was any effort to redesign the committee. The existing unreformed four-sector Election Committee remained on course to become the Nominating Committee. Final Alliance options announced early this year said only that the Nominating Committee should be “the more democratic the better.” The chief thrust of the final Alliance proposals was, however, a demand for public nomination and no screening out of non-loyalist candidates. Beijing officials have said repeatedly that candidates must “love the country, and love Hong Kong,” mainland shorthand to describe pro-Beijing loyalists.
The Alliance’s three proposals announced in January 2014:
1.) Civil nomination via a signature campaign. The Nominating Committee must endorse for nomination any candidate who can collect signatures from 1% of all registered votes.
2.) Political party nomination based on voter turnout. The Nominating Committee must endorse for nomination candidates put forward by any political party or group that received at least 5% of the votes cast in the last Legislative Council direct election.
3.) Nominating Committee nomination. The existing unreformed Election Committee could become the Nominating Committee with the right to nominate candidates directly ( http://www.atd.hk/)
These proposals reflected the clear polarization that had intensified between Beijing and pan-democrats, leaving the latter essentially with an all-or-nothing set of options: either public nomination or the old unreformed committee. But that committee was designed back in the late 1980s when the Basic Law was being drafted … and when Beijing perceived Hong Kong democrats as posing a real threat. The aim was to make it difficult for aspiring pro-democracy candidates to win endorsement from one-eighth of the members, which is the number needed under present rules to allow even a token candidacy. The question of a pro-democracy candidate actually being elected Chief Executive by receiving half of all Election Committee members’ votes is beyond the realm of possibility.
By January, disagreement within the Alliance centered on the demand to make civil nomination mandatory. Moderates led by the Democratic Party refused to do so leaving pan-democrats in a likely no-win situation. One thing they all agree on, however, is no screening out of pro-democracy candidates who do not fit Beijing’s criteria for loyalty and patriotism (Jan. 13, 2014 post). The immediate task if deadlines are to be met, therefore, is to reconcile the irreconcilable.
INDIRECT PUBLIC NOMINATION?
Since January Beijing and all the powers-that-be have been railing against everything in the Alliance proposals … everything, that is, except the unreformed unregenerate Election/Nominating Committee. Even the international experts that democracy activists had been hoping would underwrite their demands have bowed before the barrage. And so has Anson Chan Fang On-sang who announced her “Hong Kong 2020” group’s proposals on the same day the University of Hong Kong’s panel of international experts was deciding that international standards do not, after all, mandate civil nomination (Mar. 26 post).
Her group nevertheless points toward the only real solution, namely, some way of accommodating the public’s aversion to another rubber-stamp Chief Executive selection exercise. If 2017 is to mean anything at all as Hong Kong’s first universal suffrage election, the public should be allowed to have a say in the nominating process … for future reference, if nothing else, and for the precedent it could set. Building public nomination into the Nominating Committee seems a plausible way out of this dilemma. Chan’s group has come forward with one such design and so has another of her members, Hong Kong University law professor Johannes Chan Man-mun. Another HKU law professor, Michael Davis, has put forward another combination … public recommendation and a Nominating Committee. But his proposal for a wholly elected committee seems to be an idea that has already come and gone (March 26 post).
Anson Chan as chief secretary was number two in both the last colonial administration and its first post-1997 successor, but she took early retirement rather than continue as a leading member of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa’s government and has gone on to become a respected elder within the democratic camp. Other members of her “Hong Kong 2020” lobby group include: Allen Lee Peng-fei, founder of the pro-business Liberal Party who has also now joined the democratic camp; Civic Party barrister Gladys Li; former civil servant Elizabeth Bosher; and businessman George Cautherley. Their policy paper, issued jointly with the Civic Party in January, was a blunt critique of the Hong Kong government’s lackluster approach to electoral reform (www.2017.hk).
Yet Anson Chan, too, has given way before the daunting task of trying to redesign the Election/Nominating Committee with all its powerful interests and unrepresentative seat assignments. She explained to an interviewer that rather than attempt that exercise, her group decided to focus on one of the committee’s existing four sectors and allow it to incorporate the idea of an “indirect” public nomination.
Ideally, of course, the existing Election Committee should be scrapped and redesigned. Her group’s “Preliminary Proposals” acknowledge this need since the Election Committee was designed to produce a conservative voting outcome. Hence, “the structure, composition and relative size of sub-sector elections in the First, Second, and Third Sectors are so completely illogical that nothing, short of a complete overhaul, can remedy the imbalance in representation” (http://goo.gl/k3lJEP).
The existing sector and subsector constituent components of this committee indicate the complexity of any such serious remodeling project. Still, this is something that bright young things with all their computer skills might have attempted last summer as their volunteer contribution to the Alliance for True Democracy when it was struggling for lack of resources to set up a website. But opportunities lost do not return, at least not in good time.
Anson Chan’s current proposal calls for a four-sector Nominating Committee of 1,400 people (up from the current 1,200 in the Election Committee). The first three sectors remain essentially unchanged at 300 seats each … except that the tycoons’ Sector One (business, industry, and finance) would have to abandon corporate voting. Otherwise, Sector Two (the professions) and Sector Three (social welfare, culture, labor, religion, agriculture and fisheries) remain unchanged at 300 members each. These three sectors’ committee members are chosen by the same electorate responsible for filling half the Legislative Council’s special-interest or Functional Constituency seats.
The big change in Anson Chan’s plan is Sector Four, the political sector, which would be expanded from 300 to 500 seats. Some of these would be filled, as now, by: the 70 Legislative Councilors, Hong Kong’s 36 National People’s Congress delegates, and a selection of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress (CPPCC) delegates. The innovation would come with 317 new seats to be filled by direct popular election, albeit from the constituencies that currently elect councilors to the 18 District Councils. These 317 committee members would then serve as a form of indirect public nomination since they would have been elected specifically as Chief Executive candidate nominators and not as Legislative or District Councilors ( http://goo.gl/k3lJEP ).
Professor Chan has made a similar revision in his proposal first announced last fall. His original idea was to cut out the existing Election Committee altogether. Since its three sectors are elected by the same Functional Constituencies that elect half the Legislative Council, he reasoned that the same representation could be achieved with a much smaller committee. His original plan called for a 160-member body with the 35 Functional Constituency legislators standing in for their 900 counterparts in the existing Election Committee design. Making up his 160-member committee would be: all 70 Legislative Councilors; 36 National People’s Congress delegates; 31 CPPCC delegates; 18 District Councilors or one from each of Hong Kong’s 18 District Councils; plus one religious leader, one student representative, and three civil servants (South China Morning Post, Oct. 5, 2013).
Professor Chan has just announced his revised plan with an indirect public nomination component. He would replace the 18 District Councilors with 18 committee members elected directly by all registered voters for the specific purpose of helping to nominate Chief Executive candidates (Ming Pao Daily, Apple: March 16).
All the powers-that-be both here and in Beijing are saying they fear the tensions that are coming to a head over Hong Kong’s electoral reform controversy. One escape from this predicament would be to allow some form of public participation in the nominating process. There are obviously many possibilities …
update, Apr. 2: Professor Simon Young, also of HKU, has added another variation on the theme … that was not possible in his Designing Democracy decision tree when he set up the website last year. He has just announced his proposal to combine public nomination with a reformed Nominating Committee. He criticizes his colleague, Michael Davis, who has suggested public recommendation together with a wholly-elected NC. Young says “recommendation” is not good enough. He would like to make it mandatory for the committee to consider any aspirant who could collect 5,000 valid signatures from registered Hong Kong voters in support of his/her candidacy (SCMP, April 2). The bandwagon for a creative combination is rolling …
update, April 3: Bandwagon picking up speed … A group of 18 academics came forward yesterday with another “public recommendation plus Nominating Committee” plan. Any aspiring candidate who could collect signatures from 2% of registered voters, about 70,000 people, would be entitled to consideration by the NC. He/she would then need endorsement by one-eighth of committee members to become a formal candidate. The NC would also be reformed with the abolition of corporate voting. This group includes HKU lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming who spoke up against a categorical rejection of corporate voting at the March 20 HKU rountable. Loyalist HKU professor Albert Chen Hung-yee came forward with a similar idea several months ago and does not reject this one (Mar. 26 post; www.facebook.com/ScholarProposal; SCMP, April 3.