23 February 2019
Democrats suspect the universal suffrage model outlined by NPC Standing Committee chairman Zhang Dejiang (L).will be used by Beijing to provide legitimacy for whoever is chosen to lead Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ
Democrats suspect the universal suffrage model outlined by NPC Standing Committee chairman Zhang Dejiang (L).will be used by Beijing to provide legitimacy for whoever is chosen to lead Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Flawed HK universal suffrage: What is Beijing’s game plan?

A months-long debate and consultation on the process for choosing Hong Kong’s next leader has finally come to this: Beijing will nominate the candidates, Hong Kong people can vote for one of the approved contenders.

The electoral blueprint announced on Sunday, which has been denounced by pro-democracy groups as “fake universal suffrage”, is proof that Beijing isn’t willing to trust Hong Kong people with regard to the choice of their next chief executive in 2017.

Ignoring the mass-rallies and calls for free elections where people will have a genuine choice, China’s leaders have made it clear that they are willing to go only so far with regard to furthering democracy in the special administrative region.

The rules pertaining to the chief executive candidates will ensure that only those in Beijing’s good books will get to contest in the election, safeguarding the central government’s power over the city.

While some Hong Kong people, who prefer a stable and harmonious society and hate political arguments and conflict with Beijing, will welcome China’s latest announcement and hope to cast their votes in 2017, others will view Beijing’s decision as a trap of democracy, given that Hong Kong people will still have no power to nominate their preferred candidates to run for the city’s top job.

The eligibility norm set by the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee for prospective candidates — the contenders must have the backing of at least 50 percent of the members of a nominating committee — will eliminate troublesome candidates from the democratic camp, given that the committee will be packed with Beijing loyalists. 

From China’s perspective, the implementation of ‘one person one vote’ fulfills Beijing’s promise in the Basic Law to grant universal suffrage right in Hong Kong. It is another matter, however, that Hongkongers have a different interpretation of what that system entails; they aver that the rules outlined by Beijing do in fact make a mockery of the ‘one person, one vote’ principle.

The Chinese Communist Party’s overall goal is clear: use flawed universal suffrage as a tool for Beijing to boost the legitimacy, recognition and public support for Hong Kong’s leader.

If the electoral reform package is passed by Hong Kong’s Legislative Council next year, Hongkongers, no matter whether they are pro-establishment or pro-democrat, will be under pressure to support any leader who is elected under universal suffrage in 2017 and afterward.

People will no longer find it easy to dismiss the leader as lacking legitimacy if millions of people have participated in the election, rather than just a 1200-member strong election committee. Should the next Hong Kong leader fail to get the support of locals, Beijing will accuse the public of not standing by the person they have chosen, and will blame the people for any government failings.

Scholars and intellectuals, who had outlined very moderate proposals with regard to the 2017 election, have good reason now to be disillusioned by Beijing’s apparent lack of sensitivity toward public opinion in Hong Kong.

A group of 50 Hong Kong-based scholars, including former chairman of Legislative Council Andrew Wong, issued a joint statement on Sunday to express their disappointment over the NPC decision, and warned that more action could come in the fight for a true democratic electoral framework.

Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 Chinese democracy movement, has joined fellow scholars to support Hong Kong’s Occupy Central campaign. Meanwhile, he also proposed nominating organizers of the Occupy Central campaign for the Nobel Prize peace award for their non-violent fight for true democracy, in a bid to bring the Hong Kong issue under the global spotlight.

Soon after the NPC announcement on Sunday, the Hong Kong government published a new series of promotional materials for the 2017 universal suffrage with a slogan “Your vote, gotta have it” to convince Hong Kong people to accept Beijing’s framework.

But the task won’t be easy as pan-democrats and scholars will step up their own campaign. While it remains to be seen how things will unfold, one this is for sure: Hong Kong is set for more fiery debates and protests in the coming months. 

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe