Date
23 November 2017
Professor Johannes Chan (left) of the University of Hong Kong calls for public nomination of the chief executive candidates, a proposal that is likely to be rejected by National People's Congress led by Zhang Dejiang. Photos: Xinhua, HKEJ
Professor Johannes Chan (left) of the University of Hong Kong calls for public nomination of the chief executive candidates, a proposal that is likely to be rejected by National People's Congress led by Zhang Dejiang. Photos: Xinhua, HKEJ

Beijing insists on ‘birdcage democracy’ for HK

Beijing is sending out signals that it will shut the door to public nomination while insisting on a screening process to make sure all candidates in the 2017 chief executive election are loyal to the ruling Communist Party. That’s no different from Beijing’s direct appointment of the city’s leader.

The opposition camp, which is preparing for the Occupy Central campaign once Beijing announces its decision on political reform, should shift their focus to the principles they are fighting for. Rather than drumming up public support for their civil disobedience campaign, they should focus their efforts on presenting the perils of “birdcage democracy” for China’s special administrative region and the importance of genuine election to represent the Hong Kong people.

Professor Johannes Chan of the University of Hong Kong told a radio program over the weekend that “a 100 percent safe chief executive election is no different from an appointment”. He said most of the Hong Kong people are expecting universal suffrage in 2017, but they are also worried they won’t have a real choice in the election and will become mere voting machines.

Chan said there is no mechanism that guarantees the election outcome, and if such a mechanism exists, it will be no different from an appointment. Any election mechanism is based on voters’ confidence. Hong Kong people have shown in previous elections that they are responsible voters. So if the Communist Party worries that the majority of the more than three million qualified voters will choose a candidate who is against the central government, the issue is not the election mechanism but Beijing’s relationship with Hong Kong. 

Choosing a popular chief executive should be the best outcome for both the city and the central government, rather than picking a Communist Party loyalist who does not enjoy the trust of Hong Kong people.

That’s why public nomination is a crucial part of electoral reform, as it is the best, and only, way to reflect the people’s choice of who should lead them. The opposition camp should promote the advantage of public nomination, explaining that most countries use public nomination as a means to pick the men and women qualified to serve as their leader.

While the pro-Beijing camp is sparing no effort to malign the Occupy Central movement, conjuring up all possible deleterious effects it would have on the city’s economy and the people’s’ livelihood, they have cleverly avoided discussing the merits of China’s preferred mechanism for the 2017 election and how it would be beneficial to Hong Kong in the longer term. Instead, they have been parroting Beijing’s line that a chief executive candidate “must love the country and Hong Kong”.

Beijing’s top leaders have acknowledged that most Hong Kong people “love the country and love the city”, and even politicians from the opposition camp fall within this category. If that is the case, what’s the rationale for setting limitations on the right of the people to choose their leaders? Why then should Beijing insist on screening out “unfriendly” candidates?

The debate should be brought back to issue of political reform, rather than allowing the pro-Beijing camp to muddle the issue by raising scenarios of chaos and disorder in the city.

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SC/JP/CG

EJ Insight writer

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