20 October 2018
In the 2012 chief executive election, Leung Chun-ying (right) and Henry Tang (left) snapped up almost 81 percent of the votes of the election committee, while Albert Ho won around 15 percent. Photo: Bloomberg
In the 2012 chief executive election, Leung Chun-ying (right) and Henry Tang (left) snapped up almost 81 percent of the votes of the election committee, while Albert Ho won around 15 percent. Photo: Bloomberg

“90% nomination” proposal may offer us a way out

The second round of political reform consultations will end this Saturday, and the majority of Hong Kong have been focusing on how to introduce more democratic elements to the nomination committee and lower the threshold of nomination, as well as the so-called “blank vote” proposal.

However, the current political deadlock lies in the fact that it is difficult to find a reform proposal that is both in accordance with the Aug. 31 resolution of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) and acceptable to the various factions across our political spectrum.

Recently someone has put forward an intriguing proposal on the internet known as the “90% nomination”. It didn’t draw much attention, let alone provoke in-depth discussion, probably because it is simply too peculiar. However, if we look more closely, we might find that the proposal does have considerable merit, and is worth further scrutiny.

In this article, I would like to look into this proposal and play the devil’s advocate, hoping that I can inspire further discussion.

At first glance, a 90 percent threshold is even harsher than the original 50 percent threshold required under the NPCSC resolution. Under such a proposal, any chief executive candidate who wishes to get official nomination must win the support of at least 1,080 members of the nomination committee. This will make it even more unlikely for a pan-democratic CE hopeful to become an official candidate.

However, if we look at it conversely, it also means that if 120 or more nomination committee members refuse to nominate any particular candidate, he or she will be unable to run for CE. In other words, any minority faction that holds more than 10 percent of the seats in the nomination committee will in effect have the power to veto any CE hopeful.

In the 2012 CE election, candidates Leung Chun-ying and Henry Tang Ying-yen snapped up almost 81 percent of the votes of the election committee members, while the pan-democratic candidate Albert Ho Chun-yan received the support of 188 election committee members, or around 15 percent, many of whom were moderate democrats from the legal, education, higher education, social welfare, information technology and accounting sectors.

If the nomination committee is going to be formed in 2016 based on the composition of the existing election committee, we can have enough reasons to believe that the pan-democrats will still be able to control at least 15 percent of the seats, giving them the power of veto in the process of nomination.

One of the merits of the “90% nomination” proposal is that it not only conforms to the NPCSC resolution and will not undermine Beijing’s ultimate control over the choice of candidates, but is also more likely to be accepted by moderate pan-democrats and pro-establishment business elites since it can eliminate both radical democrats and extreme leftists during the nomination process, so that none of these people will stand a chance to run for chief executive.

In fact, the moderate pan-democrats have lost both their leadership and moral high ground in the wake of the Umbrella Movement, and they are currently under siege by the pro-establishment and indigenous camps simultaneously.

It remains questionable whether they can keep their seats in the 2016 Legislative Council election and continue to play the role of the decisive minority. Based on the turnouts of the 2008 and 2012 Legco elections, the size of the electorate who identified with the moderate pan-democrats was indeed large, totaling more than 700,000.

The “90% nomination” proposal may prove invaluable in helping the moderate pan-democrats appeal to a larger demographic and strengthen their support base.

However, there are several demerits about this proposal:

1. Further raising the nomination threshold is in violation of the principles of democracy and equality.

2. It appears inadequate if we only focus on the nomination threshold rather than the composition of the nomination committee. The proposal will only work if the composition of the future nomination committee remains basically the same as the existing election committee. Otherwise, the proposal might backfire.

3. Even if the future nomination committee is formed based on the composition of the existing election committee, given the deterioration of the influence of the pan-democrats, they might not be able to hold on to their existing 15 percent of the seats.

4. In the end it might be possible that none of the CE hopefuls can get enough votes to become an official candidate due to serious infighting among the pro-establishment camp.

The “90% nomination” proposal is hardly perfect, nor are any other proposals on the table right now. However, it might be the second-best alternative for all the major stakeholders at the negotiation table at this stage.

For the majority of the public, the proposal may represent a middle course between the NPCSC resolution imposed by Beijing and the civil nomination advocated by the radical pan-democrats, giving us an opportunity to break the current political deadlock.

Although I am not going to take a stand on this proposal, I believe it is something that is worth a more thorough discussion in our society.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 5.

Translation by Alan Lee

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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