27 March 2019
In this file photo, pro-democracy lawmakers carry yellow umbrellas as they leave the chamber in the middle of a session as a show of protest. Photo: Reuters
In this file photo, pro-democracy lawmakers carry yellow umbrellas as they leave the chamber in the middle of a session as a show of protest. Photo: Reuters

Why pan-democrats should not be distracted by concessions

It seems the government is willing to make some minor concessions to win pan-democrats over to the proposed electoral reform package.

Sources say the government is open to discussions on a road map for the 2022 chief executive election.

However, we can’t expect too much from it.

It won’t lead to true universal suffrage or public nomination. In all likelihood, Beijing will continue to vet candidates.

But in order to get pan-democrats aboard, the government needs to clearly state — in the proposed bill — that changes will be made to the 2022 electoral arrangements.

Possible changes include widening the field to three to four candidates from the proposed two to three for the 2017 election, expanding the nominating committee from 1,200 members and including the youth sector in the process.

It’s worth mentioning that the concessions came about after pan-democrat legislator Ronny Tong said he is willing to persuade his colleagues to support the reform proposal if the government commits to improving the electoral arrangements going forward.

These include the Legislative Council being entirely elected by universal suffrage in 2020.

Pan-democrats are standing their ground but some want to see progress after private meetings with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.

Lam has been asked to arrange a meeting for pan-democrats with Beijing officials to discuss the NPC decision.

Meanwhile, Tong is pressing on with his own initiative to bring universal suffrage to Hong Kong in 2017.

The purported government concessions will test the waters in the pan-democrat camp on the extent of its commitment to true universal suffrage.

However, there’s a danger that the discussions over the 2022 election framework will shift the focus from the current issues and ease the passage of the proposed election reform, complete with a pre-screening mechanism for the candidates.

Pan-democrats have been fighting to get Beijing to reconsider the vetting process, even challenging the legitimacy of the NPC’s Aug. 31 ruling.

Some politicians have argued that the NPC decision contravenes the Basic Law, which gives Hong Kong the power to set electoral arrangements.

They say the NPC should have decided on the basis of the question put before it by the Hong Kong government — whether or not reform was necessary to implement the 2017 chief executive election framework — but not design that framework itself.

The newly formed Progressive Lawyers Group, an organization of barristers, solicitors and law students, cited Article 45 of the Basic Law.

The group said “any attempts to make permanent any Chief Executive selection arrangements under the current system or any system created under the [NPC] decision are contrary to Article 45 of the Basic Law insofar as neither of these systems constitutes universal suffrage”.

Pan-democrats should continue to challenge the legitimacy of the NPC decision, rather than simply accept the 2017 reform package in exchange for improvements to the 2022 arrangements.

They have made a commitment to the public to veto the NPC proposal. If the proposal is passed, it could dash any hope that Hong Kong people will ever be able to nominate their leader.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe