HK Observer: Not time to throw in the towel


Robert Carroll

Hong Kong is no stranger to massive street protests. The last was in 2003, when half a million people took to the streets to protest the proposed anti-subversion law, required by Article 23 of the Basic Law. Beijing sat up and heads rolled. First it was the Secretary for Security, Regina Ip, who resigned from her position, followed by no less than Chief Executive Tung Chee-wah. Later, large street demonstrations were successful in changing government policy. However, things have changed. The question is why has Beijing purposefully and continuously ignored mainstream popular sentiments, as evidenced by many polls and voting patterns.
When I say mainstream popular sentiment, the most identified example is reflected in the results of Legislative Council elections, determined by “one person, one vote” since 1995. The parties which are closest to being Communist or seen to be controlled by the Chinese government have consistently failed to get a majority vote in the “one person, one vote” geographical Legislative Council elections, despite having vastly greater resources. However, the legislature has no initiating power to make law by design, only a degree of blocking power. The directly elected sector is counterbalanced by an indirectly elected sector, which can be controlled by business interests that are dependent on the Chinese government’s goodwill.
If the popular vote is not mostly with the pro-China communist-backed parties for the legislature, then why would the Chinese Communist Party want a real popular vote for the Chief Executive too?
Another pertinent question is that if the pro-democracy camp, the pan-democrats, had been more willing to bend in their demands for genuine democracy as promised by the Basic Law, would we have had a better offer from Beijing?
The deal as it stands keeps the promise of universal suffrage for the next chief executive election. On the other hand, it keeps a deeply flawed system. It means that 1200 people, many of whom are open to pressure from Beijing, will decide from a list of two or three candidates who have been approved by the Chinese government. Even then the final veto rests with Beijing.
How can this be considered reform when three screening processes are still controlled by Beijing ? Aren’t we supposed to be talking about democratic reform and progress?
On the other hand, any form of universal suffrage can be considered a step forward, if candidates need to get the public behind them – by real campaigning – then this “one person, one vote” proposal, however diluted, must be another step towards real democracy. Beijing does not want an unpopular chief executive; therefore, however small the voting circle, the eventual candidates must fight through television debate and furious lobbying to get as much support as they can from the public, business, and professional sectors that make up the nominating committee. These sectors still have the penultimate say.
As we have seen in the last chief executive election, whoever gets through the filtering process must still fight a hard campaign.
If this is an interim solution, as the standing committee of the NPC – the constitutional authority on these matters – has claimed, there is still room for optimism that a future CE election can be tailored to be more representative of the popular will.

Categories Opinion