Hanging By A Thread

Just in case anyone is still interested in working out a deal on political reform, there are some really creative options out there just waiting for a courageous Minister to pick up and run with. As the administration seems to be traumatised to the point of paralysis, let’s try to help by identifying some.

All parties involved agree that the key areas are composition of the nominating committee, threshold, and the detailed procedures for putting specific names of potential candidates for Chief Executive on the ballot paper for citizens to choose.

These things are intimately linked: after all, if the pan democrats were fairly represented on the committee, they would be less worried about threshold because they might be the ones in the majority, and it would be the pro establishment camp’s turn to feel the pressure. A lower threshold and people might be a bit more tolerant on composition, and so forth.

There are two major problems with the decision by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. The first is pretty fundamental: it is contrary to the Basic Law for the NPCSC to be making any decision at all. It is empowered to make interpretations of what the Basic Law means, but it is not empowered to decide on matters that fall within Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.

Leaving that aside, the detail of the unlawful decision is also problematic. Although civic and party nomination are probably contrary to the BL, so too is the dramatic introduction of a new requirement for collective nomination which is not mentioned anywhere.

Picking our way through this minefield will not be easy but let’s give it a try.

How are any names to get in front of the nominating committee for consideration? One obvious way is to maintain the existing level of support adopted by the Election Committee which is one eighth. Get 150 signatures from members and on to the next stage you go. But this is only one possible method. At this preliminary stage, there does not appear to be any reason why we could not also allow civic and party nomination. If 10,000 citizens were prepared to sign up, or if a recognised political party with a significant number of LegCo Members (say five or more) were prepared to put a name forward, should that not be good enough? After all, by itself this does not get the candidate’s name on the ballot paper, only in front of the nominating body.

Then the hustings themselves: each candidate – there might be six or eight at this point -- gets an hour, 20 minutes to set out the main points of his manifesto, 40 minutes for Q and A. When they have heard from all the candidates, the committee takes a straight yes/no vote on each. If only two or three got past that hurdle, put the names forward together in a composite resolution for endorsement. If more than three, then consider how to trim back, perhaps a run-off between the candidates with lower levels of support on the first ballot.

Now with the nomination process sorted, we can move back up the chain to composition of the nominating committee itself. We seem to be stuck with the “four equal sector” approach (300 seats each for Commercial, Professional, Community and Representatives). But we do not have to be stuck with all the undemocratic features within it. Out must go corporate voting. Politics is about people, not contrived structures. One person, one vote must mean exactly that. No system which gives individual tycoons control over literally hundreds of votes each can possibly be described as fair.

There is scope for many other improvements also. Incremental progress will not satisfy everyone but it is worth having, and therefore worth the effort.

Our community is at a crossroads. We can continue sitting – the administration on its hands, the students in the streets – or we can make the best of what we have.

Hong Kong is an action place. We should get on with it.

Mike Rowse
email: mike@rowse.com.hk