Democratic Reform Proposals

Dear friends of Hong Kong,

Yesterday (April 22), the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government released its proposals for the election of the Chief Executive (CE) in 2017 by universal suffrage.

As I wrote earlier on January 8, the Government has sought to make the nomination process as fair and transparent as possible, with the intention to promote a competitive atmosphere and active involvement by the public from the nomination to the voting stage of the election.

The proposals released yesterday come after two rounds of public consultations that started back in December 2013 and ended in March this year.

But these proposals are not just the culmination of a 16-month period of discussion, debate and, at times, divisive protest.

They are the culmination of an 18-year journey for Hong Kong’s political system since its return to China in 1997.

They also represent a historic milestone some 25 years after the election of the CE by universal suffrage was promulgated in 1990 in our constitutional document, the Basic Law, by the National People’s Congress of China.

During our wide-ranging consultations, one thing was very clear: Hong Kong people eagerly look forward to casting their own ballots to elect the next Chief Executive in 2017.

Recent public opinion polls also show that a majority of Hong Kong people are in favor of accepting the proposals.

To make this aspiration come true, our legislators must approve the proposals by a two-thirds majority – that is, 47 of the 70 members. We hope the vote on this will take place before the summer recess of the Legislative Council in July.

This will be a hard task, since 27 lawmakers, referred to in Hong Kong as pan-democrats, have repeatedly vowed to veto the package. I hope that they will change their minds, and reflect public opinion when they are called upon to vote.

When Hong Kong was under British administration, Governors were dispatched from London. Hong Kong people had no say in the matter.

Since 1997, the Chief Executives have been selected by an Election Committee (EC) – initially 800 members but later expanded to 1,200.

Although these 1,200 members were from four different sectors and mostly returned by elections, most Hong Kong people still had no direct role in selecting the CE. All we could do was to watch the process on TV.

Now, we are proposing major changes to this process.

For a start, five million eligible voters will be able to tick the ballot for their preferred CE candidate for the first time. Hong Kong people will no longer be passive observers but active participants in the electoral process.

In the run-up to the polling day, CE candidates will have to hit the hustings to explain and promote their election platforms to the public. For the first time, we will have a full-fledged election campaign to be decided by the man and woman in the street.

The nominating process has attracted much comment and criticism, much of which stems from ignorance about the city’s constitutional set up.

Under the Basic Law that was promulgated in 1990, a Nominating Committee (NC) as a whole must nominate candidates for the public ballot. This is not a new requirement or an added restriction – it has been in the Basic Law all along. This NC will mirror the 1,200-member EC.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress decided in August last year that there must be two to three candidates on the public ballot to ensure a choice and a competitive election.

Under the current system, potential candidates need to secure 150 EC nominations to qualify as a candidate, and there is no limit on the number of nominations a candidate could receive. Then the 1,200-member EC makes the choice for Hong Kong’s 7.2 million residents.

The HKSAR Government now proposes lowering this threshold to 120 and capping it at 240 at the NC members recommendation stage. This means up to 10 people could vie for the right to be one of the two to three nominated candidates – something akin to a ‘primary’ runoff.

This ‘primary’ runoff is also new, and will inject an additional element of competition. Those vying for a place on the public ballot will have to widely promote their platforms to NC members as well as the public.

Hong Kong is now at a crossroads. We are urging Hong Kong people – especially our legislators – to take the road not yet travelled to support our political reform package.

We believe it will make a big difference to our political system and election culture. The whole electoral process will become more inclusive, transparent and competitive. And the CE will have a greater mandate and accountability to the whole Hong Kong population than ever before.

If we miss this golden opportunity, the election of the CE by universal suffrage would be further delayed. We would then retain the same electoral system we have now.

Moreover, any chance of introducing universal suffrage for electing all members of the Legislative Council, possible only after the CE is elected by universal suffrage, would be further deferred.

I believe, and hope, that now is the time for us to move forward.

You may be interested in reading the full statement by our Chief Secretary for Administration, Carrie Lam, delivered at the Legislative Council on April 22: www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201504/22/P201504220392.htm.

Details of the consultation report and proposals can be viewed and downloaded at the link: www.2017.gov.hk. If you have any questions, please contact us by emailing: hketony@hketony.gov.hk.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Barclay
Director
Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, New York

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