(This essay was published in South China Morning Post on 11 June 2014)
Political opinion on how to select the HKSAR Chief Executive (CE) candidates remains highly divided, some say polarized. This is unfortunate.
On 22 June, Occupy Central will stage a mini-referendum to invite the public to pick among three pre-selected proposed methods. All of them embrace elements of citizens’ nomination, which Beijing says violates the Basic Law by circumventing the Nominating Committee (NC).
If these three proposed methods are the only choices on the table, then Hong Kong will most likely not have a CE selected through universal suffrage in 2017. This would be disastrous, as the current electoral process no longer meets the aspirations of the people, having failed so far to offer the elected CEs the legitimacy to govern effectively and to respond to the concerns of diverse stakeholders in Hong Kong.
Much is at stake. Hong Kong’s competitiveness ranking has recently dropped. Surely this reflects on our deteriorating political governance, directly and indirectly.
Hopefully common sense will eventually prevail. Growing recent talk of finding a middle way is encouraging. On 29 April, a Group of 13 (G-13), including myself, released a proposal for a new approach to nominate the CE candidates by reforming the NC (see http://2017cenom.blogspot.hk/). It is crafted to meet the constitutional and legal requirements of the Basic Law, address the public’s democratic aspirations, and yet pass the scrutiny of Beijing, the Legislative Council, and the Administration (the “Five-step Process”) necessary for universal suffrage to be adopted.
Our aim is to enhance the representativeness and acceptability of the central role of the NC in the CE selection process. The G-13 proposal retains the four sectors of the former CE Selection Committee as well as its method of selecting 1200 members, but it calls for the addition of 1200 new members.
The key feature of the G-13 proposal is that the electorate would vote directly for these 1200 new members. Any registered voter could compete for these new NC seats. They would have to secure endorsement from a fraction of the voters (not NC members) belonging to the original four sectors (not the more narrowly based 38 sub-sectors). A candidate therefore stands for the sector as a whole and not any sub-sector. This opens up the representation of the NC to candidates that must make a broader sector-wide appeal and not just narrowly focused sub-sector interests.
Next they would then have to secure 2500 votes from the general electorate. Public participation in the process thereby would be substantially enhanced. Broadened representation of the four sectors encourages two developments. First, it redeems the credibility of the NC in the eyes of the public. Second, by opening functional constituencies to popular elections it complements geographic constituencies to promote public decisions in favor of the political center. Orderly progression towards a democratic system will be better facilitated.
Retaining the original SC memberships pays due respect to historical legacy without being unduly burdened by it. Adding a new category of members in 2017 is a pragmatic political choice that allows the NC to take a big step towards the future. Such an arrangement respects the legitimate rights and interests of all groups in society and avoids creating fresh conflicts by engaging in difficult political bargaining over the past to no avail.
The CE candidates are encouraged to reach out to a broad spectrum of interests and the wider electorate when seeking office. Politics will then be able to return to the path of building policy consensus for serving the majority rather than beholden to narrow extreme interests. Only then will political polarization be curbed and the CE in office will feel less compelled to outwit each other in fruitless games of deception and confrontation.
Democracy as an ideal embodies the principles of participation, liberty and equality. The G-13 proposal takes Hong Kong forward politically on all three fronts. It takes a significant step towards gaining the support of the public and eventually passing the “Five-step Process” by addressing their aspirations for political moderation and genuine democracy. It would encourage different sectors to work towards common goals, reduce doubt and conflict, and make having a CE elected through universal suffrage in 2017 a reality. This is very important to the long-term stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.
Getting electoral reforms correct would be hugely beneficial for economic progress. Our dysfunctional political system, where the CE is at loggerheads with Legco, radicals hold moderates in hostage, policy stalemate replaces policy solution have repeatedly delayed long overdue policies affecting housing, labor markets, immigration, industry, and many other areas. History has demonstrated that democracy when done right is good for business and economic prosperity.
Figure : Expanding NC through the 1-2-3 formula