HK awaits vital year in constitutional reform
This year will go down as an eventful one forHong Kong. What started as a misreading of Beijing’s “One Country, Two Systems” policy forHong Kong culminated in raucous “Occupy Central” protests. The final site of the protests was cleared by theHong Kong police onMonday, opening the roads that had been blocked for two and half months.
To clear misunderstandings over the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, the State Council Information Office issued a White Paper titled “The Practice of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Policy in theHong Kong Special Administrative Region” on June 10. In fact, the White Paper was intended to make clear the existing political meanings of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy and the Basic LawofHong Kong SAR, which have been in force for more than 17 years.
But some people inHong Kong misinterpreted it as Beijing’s attempt to tighten the SAR’s policy. And the most contentious issue became universal suffrage and election ofHong Kong’s chief executive (CE) in 2017, especially the nomination process of the candidates.
According to Article 45 of the Basic Law and the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the Hong Kong CE shall be elected through universal suffrage after being nominated by a broadly representative nomination committee in accordance with democratic procedures, and the nomination committee should be formed according to Annex I of the Basic Law. This means the CE should be chosen in 2017 through election— or through consultations held locally— and appointed by the central government.
The central government and theHong Kong government want to strictly follow the Basic Lawand the NPC Standing Committee’s decision, whileHong Kong’s prodemocracy camp wants the CE candidates to be nominated directly by voters or political parties following so-called international standards, which goes against the NPC Standing Committee’s decision as well as the Basic Law.
The NPC Standing Committee’s decision came on Aug 31 after theHong Kong government submitted a political reform plan. In short, the decision says the number of members, organization and selection method of theHong Kong nomination committee should be in accordance with that of the election committee for the CE election in 2017. This means the 1,200 committee members will still represent four sectors of society (industrial, commercial and financial sector; professional fields; labor representatives; and religion leaders) and their ratio will remain the same; CE candidates must get more than half of the nomination committee’s votes to contest the election; and the number of CE candidates will be limited to two or three.
The pro-democracy camp reacted strongly to the NPC Standing Committee’s decision, alleging that it was an attempt to thwartHong Kong’s universal suffrage project for 2017. The protests galvanized into the “Occupy Central” campaign that started on Sept 28 and lasted two and half months, with the demonstrators and their organizers claiming their protests were for the good of HongKong. But the only thing the “Occupy Central” campaign has done is to extract a heavy price fromHong Kong society.
The Basic Lawand the system it has helped establish are respected byHong Kong society, which shows that the “Occupy Central” movement was illegal. Hong Kong is a mature society ruled by lawand thus has enough space for political dissent and peaceful protests. But “Occupy Central” was neither, because of its proclivity for violence and intemperate action.
Next year will be crucial for the development of democratic politics inHong Kong. The second round of political consultations will start in 2015, and the Legislative Council will vote onHong Kong’s constitutional reform project advanced byHong Kong SAR government. The central government’s attitude toward the development of universal suffrage inHong Kong has been consistent, andHong Kong residents have reached four agreements onHong Kong CE’s election. ConsideringHong Kong’s political development, therefore, the pro-democracy camp should abandon its misguided ideas to propel constitutional reform back to the legal system. The author is a professor at Shenzhen University and member of Chinese Association ofHong Kong andMacao Studies.