21 August 2019
Will there be genuine universal suffrage in 2017? Photo: Bloomberg
Will there be genuine universal suffrage in 2017? Photo: Bloomberg

Why pan-democrats will rubber-stamp Beijing’s HK election plan

On the surface, Hong Kong’s political development is hanging by a thread. But some things aren’t always they seem.

A week before the National People’s Congress session to discuss the territory’s political reform, pan-democratic lawmakers signed a declaration vowing to veto any Beijing-approved approach for universal suffrage in 2017 that fails to conform to an “international standard”.

This week, news reports said that the NPC’s final decision — which will come out on Sunday — will require all chief executive candidates to secure support from no less than half of the nomination committee.

Meanwhile, Occupy Central organizers said they will launch a civil disobedience movement at any time should the NPC ruling points to fake universal suffrage.

It looks like Hong Kong is sitting on a volcano but political commentator Wong On Yin thinks otherwise. He argues in the Hong Kong Economic Journal, the parent publication of, that one should not take these developments too seriously.

Wong believes that if the NPC finally rules out civil nomination and set a definitive tone for political reform, then it can be positive in the sense that all noisy debates and quarrels would come to an end.

Certainly some Hongkongers would be upset, but the worst scenario could only be a protest in Central and nothing would really happen. Members of the pan-democratic camp would then blame each other for the setback.

It appears that relations between Beijing and the pan-democrats are nothing but mutually antagonistic but the truth is that, according to Wong, it is indeed a kind of “cooperative confrontation”.

Almost all of the pan-democrats have their own overt ways to communicate with Beijing — what they say in public is just a show and what really matters is the consensus reached with Beijing behind closed doors. The consensus is that there will be no civil nomination.

Indeed, one cannot find any reference to civil nomination in the signed declaration by 26 pan-democrat lawmakers. Wong said it’s a “big, voluntary concession”.

The declaration only beats around the bush by reiterating that the process must meet international standard and weeding out unflavored candidates is unacceptable. It’s only a superficial gesture.

Nonetheless, the key point is that, just as Beijing says the chief executive “must love the country and Hong Kong”, the “international standard” for the 2017 election is also a vague concept and different groups can have their own interpretations. And, democracy without civil nomination can also take various forms.

Such compromise can be the result of Beijing and its local loyalists’ relentless efforts to organize the anti-Occupy Central march and the muckraking to expose pan-democrat lawmakers accepting political donations, mainly from media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

The pan-democrats are low on morale but since they no longer insist on civil nomination, it’s interesting to see that pro-Beijing media have stopped reporting on the scandals in the past two weeks.

Some hard-core supporters of the pan-democratic camp said the Legislative Council should veto the Beijing-approved plan for the 2017 election and the pan-democrats, a critical minority bloc, should honor their commitment in the declaration.

For months senior officials and the pro-establishment camp have been trying to convince locals that Hong Kong should accept whatever form of election model that is decided by Beijing and take it from there as the model can be further improved after 2017. In public, pan-democrats strongly oppose this.

However, Wong has predicted that, even if the Beijing-approved approach rule out civil nomination and aims to make sure that a loyalist will win the election, the pan-democrats will ultimately rubber-stamp the plan.

It is said that Beijing will limit the number of candidates to a maximum of three. The pan-democrats may put up one of their members as a candidate hopeful — indeed Beijing wants them to send one at the initial stage so that the election can be dressed up like a genuine one — but he may never stand the chance to be nominated, let alone win the election.

This is because Beijing can easily dictate the majority of votes to pick its favorite, as long as the composition of the committee follows the framework of the election committee of the previous chief executive elections.

It’s safe to say that there are still plenty of “black materials” about political donations, misconduct or collusion with foreign countries that Beijing can use to its advantage at any time. That can also be an untold reason why pan-democratic lawmakers won’t veto the plan.

–Contact the writer at [email protected]


No matter how defiant the pan-democrats are toward the central government’s stance in the 2017 election, they will, ultimately, pass the Beijing-approved plan in LegCo. Photo: Bloomberg

Hongkongers have been fighting for democracy and universal suffrage for decades but they are yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Photo: Bloomberg

EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe