HK democrats must see sil­ver lining

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The Hong Kong Gov­ern­ment’s po­lit­i­cal re­form pack­age, un­veiled last week, con­tained few sur­prises. But there are some pos­i­tive fea­tures. For one thing, the estab­lish­ment of a low thresh­old for those who want to run for chief ex­ec­u­tive in 2017 by re­quir­ing only 120 mem­bers of the Nom­i­nat­ing Com­mit­tee to “rec­om­mend” them — 10 per­cent of the 1,200 mem­bers — makes it quite easy for pan-democrats to en­ter the race. The prohibition on any can­di­date seek­ing more than 240 rec­om­men­da­tions means that at least five can­di­dates will be rec­om­mended.

This is very dif­fer­ent from the sit­u­a­tion in 2002 and 2005 when first Tung Chee-hwa and later Don­ald Tsang were able to pre­vent the emer­gence of any com­pet­i­tive can­di­date by get­ting vir­tu­ally all mem­bers of the Elec­tion Com­mit­tee to nom­i­nate them. The cap on the num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions each can­di­date may re­ceive pre­vents such a sit­u­a­tion from aris­ing again.

To be sure, the ques­tion is not

FRANK CHING

just who will be able to se­cure 120 rec­om­men­da­tions. It is, more im­por­tantly, the ques­tion of who will be able to be­come one of the two or three for­mal can­di­dates, one of whom will be cho­sen by the five mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers of Hong Kong to be the next chief ex­ec­u­tive.

The Nom­i­na­tion Com­mit­tee will be a copy of the cur­rent Elec­tion Com­mit­tee and so, we al­ready know, its mem­bers will be in­clined to sup­port pro-estab­lish­ment rather than pro-democ­racy can­di­dates.

But this divide is re­ally not very help­ful be­cause who­ever is the chief ex­ec­u­tive will have to work for the wel­fare of all the peo­ple of Hong Kong, which means that he or she has to be both prodemoc­racy and pro-estab­lish­ment. No Chief Ex­ec­u­tive can pos­si­bly want to op­pose the estab­lish­ment, namely the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, be­cause he can­not do his job that way. At the same time, he would have been cho­sen through a demo­cratic process and so can­not be against democ­racy.

Whether the pro­posed sys­tem will work de­pends to a large ex­tent on the pe­riod be­tween rec­om­men­da­tion and nom­i­na­tion. Those weeks and, prefer­ably, months should see all the can­di­dates ac­tively cam­paign­ing.

Th­ese chief ex­ec­u­tive as­pi­rants will have to an­swer ques­tions like whether they sup­port the con­tin­u­a­tion of the an­nual June 4 can­dle­light vig­ils, what their po­si­tion is on is­sues such as Ar­ti­cle 23 leg­is­la­tion, main­land tourists and na­tional ed­u­ca­tion. They will have to take a po­si­tion on sen­si­tive is­sues, know­ing that both the Hong Kong public and the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment are lis­ten­ing.

If each rec­om­mended can­di­date is­sues de­tailed elec­tion man­i­fes- toes, an­swers ques­tions fully and holds tele­vised de­bates with other can­di­dates, there will cer­tainly emerge one or two who will top the opin­ion polls.

All this, of course, pre­sup­poses suf­fi­cient cam­paign time and re­sources for this seg­ment of the process. This point is cru­cial.

If the Nom­i­nat­ing Com­mit­tee’s fi­nal list of two or three for­mal can­di­dates co­in­cides with public opin­ion, then the gov­ern­ment blue­print and the de­ci­sion of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress Stand­ing Com­mit­tee last Au­gust de­ter­min­ing how can­di­dates are cho­sen will have been vin­di­cated.

If, on the other hand, the most popular can­di­dates are not nom­i­nated, then the Nom­i­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, by its own ac­tions, will stand con­demned in the eyes of the public and the chief ex­ec­u­tive cho­sen will likely not have the nec­es­sary man­date to gov­ern.

‘A hard place’

The pan-democrats right now are caught be­tween a rock and a hard place. They can veto the pack­age, thus in ef­fect vot­ing for the per­pet­u­a­tion of the Elec­tion Com­mit­tee, which they had al­ways op­posed as a “small cir­cle elec- tion.” Or they can pass the pack­age and see how well it works.

If in 2017 it is shown that the pro­vi­sions in the pack­age don’t work, then leg­is­la­tors, and the public at large, will cer­tainly call for chang­ing the sys­tem in the next elec­tion.

Such a call will be so strong that who­ever is Chief Ex­ec­u­tive will have lit­tle choice but to re­port this to Bei­jing and ask for the ini­ti­a­tion once again of China’s five-step mech­a­nism for po­lit­i­cal re­form in 2022.

To ig­nore public opin­ion will not be an op­tion since it would sim­ply make Hong Kong un­govern­able. No gov­ern­ment that even pre­tends to gov­ern with the con­sent of the public will be able to with­stand such pres­sure. Fur­ther re­form will be in­evitable.

But the cur­rent re­form pack­age needs to be given a chance to see if it can work. It is nec­es­sary first to pass the gov­ern­ment pack­age.

The re­form pack­age, while not ideal, is cer­tainly an im­prove­ment over what ex­ists to­day. It is nec­es­sary to put it to the test to see how well it works. Frank.ching@gmail.com Twit­ter: @FrankChing1

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