Written by Zaijun Yuan.
Hong Kong people have been struggling for genuine universal suffrage for decades.
As for selecting Chief Executive, Article 45 of The Basic Law of Hong Kong states that the method “shall be specified in the light of the actual situation” in Hong Kong and “in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress”.
Since 1997, Beijing keeps denying Hong Kong an immediate universal-suffrage election, even though such an election is feasible because of Hong Kong’s developed economy, sound legal system and highly-educated population who have a strong desire for universal suffrage. It is generally believed that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is taking the advantage of this period to infiltrate and control every sector of Hong Kong society so that future Chief Executives elected by “general suffrage” are still puppets of the Beijing regime.
Feeling pressure from Hong Kong and the international community, in December 2007 the CCP-controlled National People’s Congress (NPC) was compelled to approve that a universal-suffrage election of Chief Executive would be held in 2017. However, to ensure a submissive Chief Executive would win, the CCP will still have to manipulate the election even if it has managed to establish and strengthen Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing forces which can compete with the pan-democrats in the election.
In 2013, on many occasions when talking about the universal suffrage election to be held in 2017, Beijing officials, such as NPC Law Committee Chairman Qiao Xiaoyang, Basic Law Committee Chairman Li Fei, proclaimed that a critical criterion for a future Chief Executive is that he/she “must love China and love Hong Kong” and “must not confront Beijing”. Undoubtedly the CCP never attempts to seek a consensus with Hong Kong voters on how to evaluate if a candidate is “loving China and loving Hong Kong”, instead it will have the exclusive right to define the criterion and thus will be able to deicide candidates’ eligibility strictly according to the party’s interests. Specifically, the ultimate purpose of the CCP’s “loving China and Hong Kong” criterion is that it can exclude any possibility that a future Chief Executive, who may feel even slightly reluctant to toe the party line on Hong Kong, can win a “universal-suffrage election”.
Although the CCP may feel too embarrassed to clarify its hidden agenda so that such ambiguous expression as “love China and love Hong Kong” cannot be written into the relevant laws, the party must have made detailed plans to fulfil the goal. As Qiao Xiaoyang declared in an NPC seminar in Shenzhen in March 2013, “Those who confront the central government would fail to qualify. This would be decided in three steps. First, the nomination committee will decide. Second, the voters in Hong Kong will decide. Third, the central government will decide whether to appoint [the candidate] or not”.
Regarding the second step, as discussed above, the CCP may feel it comparatively more difficult to control the voting process and the party is obviously still not confident that Hong Kong voters will not elect an opponent of Beijing as Chief Executive. If Beijing refuses to appoint the elected person to the Chief Executive position, as Qiao said in the third step, its denial of the result of Hong Kong’s first universal-suffrage election will definitely cause the severest criticism, which may even result in a collapse of the political basis of the CCP’s Hong Kong policy. Therefore, the most “practical” and “strategic” method to ensure disobedient candidates lose the election is for the CCP-controlled nomination committee to exclude such people from the candidate list. Specifically, a screening mechanism will be established in the nomination stage. In such a way, the “universal suffrage” Beijing “generously” and “sincerely” gives to Hong Kong people will actually become the right to choose between several candidates who are all preferred by Beijing.
The Basic Law states that the ultimate aim of “the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee” shall be finally achieved. At the current stage, methods of nomination in 2017 election are the most controversial issue.
The CCP insists that all candidates should be nominated by a nomination committee. Also the CCP must prefer the “safe” plan that the composition of the nomination committee in 2017 election should be modelled on the election committees, which were established on the basis of functional constituencies and which voted under Beijing’s control in Hong Kong’s previous Chief Executive elections. In such a way, “small-circle nomination” will replace “small-circle election” to guarantee that only Beijing loyalists win the election. Undoubtedly such a nomination committee, which is made up of mostly pro-Beijing political elites, can hardly be defined as “broadly representative”.
Pan-democrats proposed different methods of nomination for the 2017 election.
The most comprehensive one is the “Chief Executive election plan” suggested by the Alliance for True Democracy (ATD), a coalition of some major political parties from the pan-democracy camp. According to the plan, the nominators can be voters, political parties and nomination committee. Specifically, a group of at least 1% (approximately 30,000 voters) of all registered voters can jointly nominate one candidate, a political party receiving at least 5% (approximately 150,000 votes) of total valid votes in the last Legislative Council (LegCo) direct election can nominate one candidate, nomination committee members can nominate. In addition, the nomination committee must approve the candidature of those who are put forward by voters and political parties. Furthermore, Beijing’s red line that candidates must “love China and love Hong Kong” is an invalid criterion and the nomination committee shall not make this an excuse to refuse one’s candidature.
The method that political parties can nominate is beneficial to the big parties in pan-democracy camp. In the LegCo election held in 2012, there were three pan-democratic parties that obtained more than 5% of total votes. These parties are likely to have voting rights in 2017 if the ATD’s plan is carried out.
Radical democrats insist that only voters, but not political parties and nomination committee, can have nomination rights. If this method is adopted, it will thoroughly exclude the possibility of Beijing’s manipulation and will guarantee full democracy in 2017 Chief Executive election.
Theoretically, the method that a political party which is supported by more than 150,000 voters can nominate is democratic. In practice, however, whether the method is democratic or not depends on if the political party can finally nominate candidates according to the majority of these voters’ will. The ultimate purpose of political parties is to obtain more political power. If full democracy is not achieved in Hong Kong during or even after 2017 election, it will be the CCP rather than Hong Kong voters who can give genuine political power to these political parties. In such a condition, it is the political parties’ “rational choice” to nominate Beijing-preferred candidates and thus the seemingly democratic procedural step is actually undemocratic at all. Such things happened before in Hong Kong. In 2010, without a consultation with its voters, a major pan-democratic party had a secret deal with Beijing to support a Beijing-initiated reform package, which was generally accused of betraying its voters and slowing the pace towards universal suffrage. On the basis of these facts and analysis, the conclusion is that voters’ nomination is better than party nomination.
Interestingly and importantly, regarding the “Chief Executive election plan”, radical democrats keep urging the ATD to clarify if all the three nomination methods must be adopted as a whole to guarantee a democratic election or if using any one or two of them is acceptable. Obviously, a plan with voters’ nomination as its essential component will greatly reduce the possibilities of the CCP’s manipulation and political parties’ betrayal, but it seems that the ATD members have not reached an agreement on this issue.
The CCP reveals no clear opinions towards the method of party nomination, which indicates that there may be some space for a further negotiation or compromise between Beijing and some pan-democratic parties. In contrast, the CCP firmly denies the nomination rights of the voters because “it is against the Basic Law” and “[if so], there is no need to have a nomination committee”.
In summery, voters’ nomination is the most democratic method while nomination committee is the least one, and the CCP holds the most positive attitude to the least democratic nomination method. The negative correlation between the democratic level of a nomination method and the CCP’s attitude to the method proves again the party’s “anti-democracy” nature.
The CCP tightly controls all the so called “democratic elections” in China and it can by any means change the election result according to its will. The party also has sufficient power, experience and techniques to manipulate Hong Kong elections. Even if the CCP and its puppet politicians in Hong Kong may describe a Beijing-controlled Chief Executive election as “by universal-suffrage”, Hong Kong people need to be aware that such an election is worse than none at all, and they should keep united to fight for genuine democratic elections.
Zaijun Yuan is a political researcher based in Hong Kong.