21 October 2018
Mainland scholar Rao Geping has proposed a conservative proposal to nominate the candidates for Hong Kong's 2017 chief executive election. Photo: HKEJ
Mainland scholar Rao Geping has proposed a conservative proposal to nominate the candidates for Hong Kong's 2017 chief executive election. Photo: HKEJ

Rao Geping makes the waters muddier on HK electoral reform

With Hong Kong and Beijing arguing about the definition of real universal suffrage, people are confounded with various technical terms and jargon in relation to the plans for the 2017 chief executive (CE) election.

As if the confusion was not enough, Rao Geping, a member of the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee and a law professor at Peking University, has now made things even murkier with a fresh proposal.

But, before talking about Rao’s proposal, let’s listen to a story.

Ten students are assigned by a teacher to pre-select three choices for hundreds of students to vote on the venue for a planned picnic. Based on the normal “single vote, multi-seat” practice, Cheung Chau gets 4 votes, Lamma Island secures 3 votes and Tai O pulls in 2 votes. Shek O is out as it gets only one vote.

What can the teacher do if he wants to kick out Tai O but fails to convince the two students who prefer that choice? Implement a new rule that all 10 students vote for or against each of the choices! That could result in Cheung Chau getting, say, 8 votes in favor, Lamma Island winning 7 votes and Shek O securing 6 votes. Tai O could come last, with perhaps just 2 votes, leading to its elimination. 

Thus, through a clever change in voting rules, the teacher is able to manipulate the election result. 

In political science terms, the first system, or so-called “proportional representation” system, usually favors the minority candidates and is currently used in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (Legco) election. The second system, which is called “multi-seat, multi-vote” system, applies a “plurality-at-large” principle that favors the majority candidates.

What Rao has proposed is very much the second system. Assuming that Beijing controls 80 percent vote in a nomination committee, it can easily eliminate the pan-democrat candidates who secure just about 20 percent support in the committee, through the system.

If this is what Hong Kong will eventually get, the pan-democrats who wish to get nominated as candidates for the chief executive election will be disappointed. 

From Beijing’s perspective, it is too risky to let any candidates from the pan-democratic camp pass the nomination committee as such move will largely increase the uncertainty of the outcome in the public voting stage. If a person who may not fully follow Beijing’s line is elected as Hong Kong’s chief executive, Beijing will face a difficult situation as to whether it should use its veto power to reject the appointment of the winner. 

In a forum in Hong Kong Sunday, Rao, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and some members of the pan-democratic camp discussed the political reform for the city.

Rao said each candidate should be reviewed by the nomination committee individually so that the committee members can vote for or against each contender. The people who win the most “for” votes will face the public when the city chooses its top leader democratically in 2017, he said, according to local media reports.

But the proposal met with serious criticisms from the democrats, who believe that it will be just another mechanism to weed out candidates not favorably disposed toward Beijing.

Labor Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said Rao’s proposal is aimed at kicking out democrats in the nomination stage. 

Democratic Party legislator Emily Lau said if Beijing does not want to see any uncertainty in a chief executive election outcome, it should have written it clearly when drafting the Basic Law in the 1980s.

Lam said the government hopes to finish an analysis on the views received from a political reform consultation as early as possible. After the study, the chief executive will submit a draft to China’s parliament — the National People’s Congress — for approval.

The official reiterated that nomination of candidates through a committee, not civil nomination, is the only way out for the chief executive election.

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Chief reporter at EJ Insight

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