The Hong Kong government seems to have closed the door to unscreened public nomination of candidates for the 2017 chief executive election, offering instead to enlarge the nominating committee to create a more democratic electoral framework.
Even if that happens, it won’t mean the people of Hong Kong will have a say in the candidates for the city’s leader in 2017 because the committee will still be the domain of a small group of elites.
Given the authorities intend to stick to the nominating committee route for picking candidates, the government might want to consider letting voters select at least some of the committee members. The idea would allow for an opposition voice and go some way to responding to the 800,000 people who supported public nomination in an unofficial referendum in late June.
We should know later this month whether that idea has gained any official traction when the government submits a consultation report on the 2017 election to Beijing to launch the electoral reform process.
The submission is almost certain to ignore the public outcry for public nominations and instead suggest enlarging the new nominating committee to 1,600 members from the 1,200 sitting on its precursor, the electoral committee. Even then it would still be a small-circle nominating mechanism.
The proposal would also fall well short of the demands of the pan-democrats, their supporters, as well as the people who voted in the Occupy Central poll. And that would undoubtedly trigger the start of the Occupy Central sit-in.
It’s still too early to say whether Beijing will do a U-turn and accept a more democratic mechanism but the Basic Law and interpretations from the National People’s Congress are the bottom lines for any electoral reform.
That means a nominating committee is an essential component, even though the pan-democrats claim it could be used to screen out “unpatriotic” and Beijing-unfriendly candidates. It would clearly not be a true democratic system but pan-democrats could call for at least some of the committee to be directly elected by the city’s 3 million registered voters.
Electing at least a quarter of the committee this way would boost its credibility while maintaining the input of the existing parties.
The pan-democrats’ fight for public nomination is clearly one they will lose because Beijing is determined not to give way. They should now seek to break into the small-circle nominating committee and secure enough seats to nominate a candidate without any intervention from Beijing. It’s a complicated political calculation that will test the wisdom of Beijing and the pan-democrats.
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