28 October 2016
Waste baskets filled with copies of the election reform proposal line a Wan Chai sidewalk. The proposal was unveiled by the government of Leung Chun-ying (pictured on the banner) in Legco on Wednesday. Photo: Facebook
Waste baskets filled with copies of the election reform proposal line a Wan Chai sidewalk. The proposal was unveiled by the government of Leung Chun-ying (pictured on the banner) in Legco on Wednesday. Photo: Facebook

Election reform sweetener: It’s just the govt being tricky

The government has just put its 2017 political reform proposal to the Legislative Council for discussion.

As expected, there were no surprises when Chief Secretary Carrie Lam unveiled it on Wednesday.

Beijing still has control over who gets elected as our next chief executive and the legislature will still be reduced to a rubber stamp if it passes the measure. 

Most of all, five million citizens still have no real choice in an exercise that could make or break Hong Kong’s democratic development. 

Even with a concession that injects a semblance of public participation into the nomination process and lowers the selection threshold, the proposal is nothing but a clone of an election framework endorsed by the National People’s Congress in August last year.

Does it matter that candidates only need to have the support of 120 members of a nominating committee instead of 150?

Absolutely not.

The real issue is that 1,200 people on the nominating panel, all likely to be Beijing loyalists, will decide who should stand for election.

Sure, Hongkongers are allowed one man, one vote in the end but that means going one way or the other will give legitimacy to an undemocratic election process.

It will produce a result that is ideal for Beijing but hollow — and meaningless — for Hong Kong people.      

What Hong Kong needs is an open, transparent and fair nominating and voting process and only a system that offers voters genuine choice can achieve it.

As the proposal stands, only a candidate backed by Beijing has any chance of being nominated, let alone elected to lead Hong Kong for the next five years from 2017.

It’s inconceivable that someone who is not acceptable to Beijing will get the 600-plus votes from the nominating panel to land on the ballot.

In that sense, nothing much has changed since Hong Kong people took to the streets for 79 days last year to press for true democracy.

The government did offer a sweetener on Wednesday — as many as 10 people can be recommended by the public to the nominating committee and they need the approval of just 120 of its members in order to be considered.

In fact, what the government did was simply add a layer to the process, perhaps thinking that the public-nomination aspect of the deal will be a game changer.

Well, it can’t be — and it won’t be.

That’s because in the end, everything comes down to two or three candidates, each anointed by at least half of the committee members, who will be forced upon the voters.

The government argues that such an arrangement gives pan-democrats a chance to be nominated, with 300 members of the nominating panel likely to be in their corner.

But that’s where it starts and ends for them because the next step, which happens to be the most important, requires them to be endorsed by more than 600 committee members in order to qualify for election.

Hong Kong people want more than the right to recommend candidates but the government does not get it.

It continues to insist that one man, one vote is the most important goal of the reform proposal, never mind that it disenfranchises voters in an important stage of the exercise.

Interestingly, the nominating committee itself will be picked by no more than 250,000 qualified electors from 38 sub-sectors of the population.

In effect, those 250,000 will represent the rest of the electorate. 

The government can’t tell us how this scheme fits the idea of genuine universal suffrage beyond saying we should take it first and see what happens.

Recent public surveys have shown that 50-60 percent of Hong Kong people support the government proposal but that does not mean it’s best for Hong Kong.

The government is looking to 2022 as a new goalpost for further improvements to the election framework.

It should get things right in the first place before it goes any further.

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EJ Insight writer

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