How everyone can benefit from universal suffrage

Updated: 2013-12-24 07:07

By Ho Lok Sang(HK Edition)

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In my last article, I stressed that all stakeholders should benefit from a sound universal suffrage system for the election of the Chief Executive (CE) in 2017. The stakeholders include Hong Kong residents, the central government, and the Hong Kong SAR Government. Finding a sound way to implement universal suffrage is in everybody's interest. So all stakeholders should work together, and the first step must be building trust.

I have argued that all stakeholders' worries are real: Beijing has its worries; the Hong Kong public has its worries; and the SAR government also has its concerns. To alleviate Beijing's worries of a CE candidate or a CE-elect becoming subversive of the central government, I have proposed requiring all CE-aspirants to make a legally binding pledge to abide by the Basic Law and the Chinese Constitution.

My other proposals are:

How everyone can benefit from universal suffrage

First, the Nomination Committee (NC) should be expanded to include members who are directly elected by qualified voters. This can be done with or without reference to the four sectors originally included in the Election Committee. If the four- sector structure is to be retained, a candidate for the NC needs to declare which of the four sectors he or she belongs to and this association with the sector must be confirmed. All confirmed candidates will contest for the expanded membership in their relevant sectors. Alternatively, in addition to the four sectors as recommended by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, a totally new class of NC members can be elected from among eligible voters from each of the 18 districts in Hong Kong. The expanded membership should not be too small, and should number up to half the membership in the original Election Committee. As a result, the directly elected NC members will number at most one-third of the entire membership. Because this still leaves two-thirds of the membership untouched, the proposal is consistent with the concept of "gradualism".

I would propose that support from 10 percent of the expanded NC would qualify one to become a CE candidate. This rather liberal requirement for one to become a CE candidate is proposed to win the trust of the Hong Kong public and alleviate their fears that the race is a predetermined one with little credibility. I would strongly recommend a liberal nomination process because the credibility of the nomination process as a fair one is extremely important to the success of the entire exercise.

Second, I would propose a two-round voting process. In the first round, the aim is to select two finalists. In the second round the CE will be elected.

I propose that in the first round, each voter has two votes that he or she can cast to support two candidates who may become finalists. However, I would also propose that voters can use one or both votes to show their non-confidence in one or two candidates. Each negative vote will negate a positive vote. In the first round, the two candidates with the biggest net support will go into the second round.

How everyone can benefit from universal suffrage

In the second round, no negative vote will be applicable. Each voter will have cast one vote on the candidate of his choice. The candidate with a simple majority of support will win the election.

The proposal to allow voters to cast a negative vote in the first round is entirely democratic. This is because democracy implies that the true aspirations of the voters can be accurately expressed and can translate into effective support or rejection of a candidate.

The negative vote or the right to reject is technically easy to implement electronically. Voters certainly understand what is support and what is rejection. All that they need to do is to press "support" or "reject" under the names of the candidates. After the voting has been completed the system will immediately generate the net number of net support for all the candidates.

The benefits of making the negative vote available to voters is to accurately reflect voter choice, encourage participation, and more importantly, to eliminate candidates, who while having sizeable support from many voters, are also vehemently disliked by many others. Because the Hong Kong public is mostly pragmatic, the proposed voting system will very likely eliminate radicals and produce a CE who is pragmatic and widely accepted. This screening process is through a thoroughly democratic and transparent method and is entirely fair.

The author is director of the Center for Public Policy Studies at Lingnan University.

(HK Edition 12/24/2013 page1)