Hong Kong SAR should endeavor to make history

Updated: 2014-09-25 06:54

By Wang ShengWei(HK Edition)

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Hong Kong SAR should endeavor to make history

On Aug 31, the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) unveiled the SAR's reform framework for electing the next Chief Executive (CE) in 2017 by universal suffrage. Before the government starts its public consultation in October, it is important to compare the reform framework with the major democratic systems around the world. This is to better prepare Hongkongers for a smooth transformation to democracy. They might even realize that our electoral method could arguably be more "democratic" than the so-called leading democracies.

In the United Kingdom, the public elects members of parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons, but not the prime minister. The prime minister is the leader of the party which gains a majority of seats in the House of Commons and which is, therefore, able to form a government. In Germany, the public also elects their MPs to the Bundestag, the lower chamber of the parliament, but not the chancellor (head of a government). In German federal elections, the political party or the coalition of allied parties winning the most votes forms the government and appoints a leader - the chancellor. In France, the president is directly elected by universal suffrage by run-off voting. This is to ensure that the elected president always obtains a majority. These examples prove there is no "universal" or "international standard" of democracy. However, there is the principle of "majority wins/rules".

The presidential election process in the United States consists of two steps. It does offer some correlation with the reform framework of Hong Kong, except that the latter provides for multi-party representation, even for those who do not belong to a party, through the Nomination Committee.

First, each political party holds its presidential primary election. To be nominated, the presidential candidate must win a simple majority of the total party delegate votes. The delegates are elected or chosen at state level. This is an elite vote. For example, in 2008 the Democratic Party had 4,233 delegates out of 42 million voters, i.e. 0.01 percent can cast votes, which hardly epitomizes the favorite "one-man, one-vote" catchphrase of many local democracy advocates.

Second, the national election is an "indirect vote" in which voters cast ballots for members of the US Electoral College on a state-by-state basis; these electors in turn directly elect the president, a reversion from popular vote back to elite votes. The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of members of congress to which the state is entitled. There are only 538 electors. If the presidential candidate wins the most votes in a state, all his/her party's electors (chosen and nominated by his/her political party or the presidential candidate) of that state will vote to elect the president ("winner-takes-all"). The candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes (currently 270) is elected as president. This, incidentally, belies the myth of the American people directly electing their president.

Similarly the SAR's reform framework consists of two steps for the 2017 CE election.

First, the primary election will be carried out by the Nominating Committee (NC) with 1,200 members (elected or chosen) in four sectors nominating two to three candidates who succeed in securing a minimum of 50 percent support from the NC members. The number of 1,200 NC members is the same as the Election Committee (EC) in the 2012 CE election. Hong Kong has 5 million voters, so 0.024 percent of them can cast votes. But in terms of percentages, 0.024 percent is clearly larger than the US number of 0.01 percent. Li Fei, the legislative official, said that the NC was "broadly representative" of the Hong Kong electorate. Critics argue that the 2012 EC was selected by constituencies which were generally establishment-leaning and by the city's business elite. But Li Fei also said there was room for deciding how the NC divides the four sectors, which organizations have the right to vote and how they vote after entering the primary election. Meanwhile, the requirement of majority support is the same as in US presidential primary elections and follows the general democratic principle of "majority wins".

Second, for the general election the "one person, one vote" guarantees that every ballot cast will be counted. Critics say the NC's nominees will be "rotten apples, rotten oranges". If this were the case, the result of the popular vote would provide a cross-check. Therefore, the reform framework offers "checks and balances" to the elite vote and suggests a progressive improvement. It is not a "conservative" framework as critics have argued.

Finally, 39th US president and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter's experience may provide a good example to the "pan-democrats". When he decided to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, he faced overwhelming opposition in the US. However, Carter went ahead with this unpopular move. He now believes it was "one of the most important decisions in his life". Carter is candid enough to admit that before taking office many American presidents would voice hostile slogans about China because they did not realize the importance of Sino-US relations.

It is understandable that some "pan-democrats" are facing similarly overwhelming pressure from radical colleagues to veto the SAR government's electoral reform package without fully understanding the country. However, it is time to act boldly like Carter and recognize the historical mission which faces them by understanding the true importance and nature of the mainland-SAR relationship and facilitate universal suffrage for Hong Kong citizens.

The author is an independent scholar and freelance writer. She is also the founder and president of the China-US Friendship Exchange, Inc.

(HK Edition 09/25/2014 page7)