The picture is getting clearer.
Beijing is likely to allow only two to three candidates to run in the 2017 chief executive election, Hong Kong’s first exercise of universal suffrage, in a bid to ensure a Beijing-friendly politician will be the next leader of China’s special administrative region.
The National People’s Congress will decide on the framework of political reform for Hong Kong later this month. But at this early stage, top leaders of the central government appear to have made up their minds on the issue. Essentially, the election rules will require a prospective candidate to secure the votes of at least half of the nominating committee in order run in the chief executive race.
As a result, the pan-democratic camp, which only has about 20 percent support in the committee, will be eliminated. Which means, only two to three candidates, all from the pro-establishment camp, will most probably run in the election.
The latest speculation indicates that Beijing has ruled out public nomination of the candidates, as demanded by the pan-democrats, and will retain its right to screen the bets. Such a stance apparently does not deviate from the “one man, one vote” principle of universal suffrage, but it also guarantees that the candidate or candidates will “love China and love Hong Kong”.
The only detail left is the composition of the nominating committee, and we don’t need to hold our breath on this. As long as the majority of the committee members (or 50 percent plus one) are from the pro-Beijing camp, Beijing wouldn’t mind if Benny Tai of Occupy Central and Albert Chan of People Power joined the panel.
What is the implication of the requirement that a candidate must get at least half of the nominations of the nominating committee in order to run?
Should the new nominating committee consist of 1,600 members, a candidate must secure the endorsement of at least 800 members to run in the election. Whether he or she can achieve this task will be firmly controlled by Beijing, which has a strong influence over the so-called “small circle” nomination committee.
In Beijing’s view, this is a “patriotic” test to ensure that all the two to three candidates “love the country, love Hong Kong”.
Although the 2017 exercise is being trumpeted as a step towards a genuine, free and democratic election, it is actually a step backward from the process implemented in the 2012 chief executive poll. In the last election, a candidate only needed 150 nominations from a 1,200-strong electoral committee to be able to run, which was why three candidates, including one from the pan-democratic camp, were able to join the race despite the fact that it was a small-circle exercise.
There are still no details on how the nominating committee will be formed for the 2017 election. The process may look acceptable to all parties but, as they say, the devil is in the details of the electoral reform proposal to be drafted by the Hong Kong government later this year.
The Democratic Party, which has six votes in the Legislative Council, could play an important role in cobbling the final form of the electoral reform. In 2010, the party was able to clinch a deal with Beijing in exchange for the green light for the 2012 chief executive and Legco elections.
Emily Lau, the party’s chairwoman, will meet with David Wong, a Hong Kong delegate to the National People’s Congress, to ask him to relay to China’s top leaders the pan-democrats’ stand on political reform. There may be a chance for some compromise, as long as both sides are sincere.
Otherwise, the pan-democrats may be forced to take more militant steps to push their legitimate demand for genuine elections.
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