About five months ago, at the height of the pro-democracy protests, “genuine universal suffrage” became a household topic.
Although it’s now more likely to have receded into the back of our minds around the dinner table, it has remained in the public consciousness.
Two years from now, when Hong Kong gets its next leader, people will know whether genuine universal suffrage came to pass.
Meanwhile, the whole concept is being interpreted in different ways, with either side of the issue putting their best definition forward.
Hong Kong people say genuine universal suffrage is the freedom to nominate and elect their next leader. Their government says it’s any election that complies with the law.
Leung Chun-ying went so far as to suggest that elections in China and North Korea, being in accordance with their election laws, are an exercise of universal suffrage.
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the right of almost all adults to vote in political elections”.
Leung evidently chose this narrow definition and wrapped it in legal jargon to make the case for a proposed framework for the 2017 chief executive election in which he is widely expected to contend.
The selection of the next Hong Kong leader goes to the heart of Hong Kong people’s freedom of choice.
It’s not only being able to elect their leader but also being able to nominate that person. Elections, after all, are a process and voting is just part of it.
Leung keeps going back to the Basic Law to buttress the official argument. Fair enough.
But the Basic Law is clear about the purpose of Hong Kong’s election law. Article 45 states that “the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures“.
The proposed election framework subverts the spirit of a “broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures” because of a provision that allows Beijing to pre-screen candidates.
That means Hong Kong voters can elect their leader but only someone Beijing wants.
Leung calls it genuine universal suffrage. Hong Kong people call it a sham.
Pan-democrats and scholars are demanding a fair and transparent nominating process if one man, one vote is to be meaningful.
On Thursday, Leung’s Legislative Council appearance was punctuated by angry outbursts from legislators who fiercely took issue with his attempt to link universal suffrage with its legal requirements.
Labor Party lawmaker Cyd Ho accused Leung of endorsing authoritarian rulers who wield the law to clobber people’s democratic aspirations.
“The UK has universal suffrage and I believe Cyd Ho would not say their election is ‘fake democracy’,” Leung said.
“But [Britain’s] election method for choosing the prime minister is very different from… that of choosing the US president.”
He said the British prime minister is only the leader of a majority party or coalition and not popularly elected.
In fact, British Prime Minister David Cameron is a directly elected member of parliament from the Witney constituency. All British MPs, for that matter, are directly returned by their respective constituents.
Those who saw Leung’s performance or read about it, might have come away confused about a concept they thought they knew by heart.
But that is apparently what Leung was trying to do: confuse the issue.
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