Alan Hoo urges the pan-dems to pocket the Government proposal and gradually change the Nomination Committee.
“At the moment, the calibre and the quality of our debate on this issue [political reform] is really shameful. It is something which is a joke at the world stage,” says Alan Hoo SC, Chairman of the Basic Law Institute.
The feisty new Liberal Party member is clear. The current proposal does represent progress, with more to come. The subtlety is in the formation of the Nomination Committee which can be evolved to become truly representative of the people’s will. The status quo can’t work and LegCo members should vote ‘yea’ for the Government package.
Nomination committee is the real deal
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, guaranteed locally through Article 39 of the Basic Law, has no mention of the right to be nominated. What the ICCPR offers is for people “to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.”
“Universal suffrage means the right to elect and the right to be elected; it doesn’t talk about the right to nominate,” he offers. The Nomination Committee is a legal product of the Basic Law and the NPCSC decision. Even though some people may not like it, he points out that every country has its own way of nominating candidates for higher political office. Hong Kong is not unusual in devising a nomination mechanism for electing the city’s leader.
Civil nomination, while rare abroad (variations in use in Korean, Taiwanese and Chilean presidential elections and California’s gubernatorial race) is favoured – even demanded – by pan-democrats here. They have argued that though civil nomination is absent in most modern Western democracies, civil participation in those places is greatly enhanced by the mature development of political parties. Such development has not taken place in Hong Kong, which is why they are fighting for civil nomination. In other words, since our parties aren’t up to the task, anyone should be able to stand with a minimum of barriers.
However, Mr Hoo dismisses the rhetoric of the pan-dems. “They [pan-dems] don’t care about a better system, the only thing they care about is ‘getting in’ [to gain the final nomination]. How can that be right for democracy?”
He believes the Nomination Committee is currently a fair system in which anyone can become a nominee, given they are eligible (Chinese citizens over 40). Pan-dems argue the design of the Nomination Committee guarantees they will never stand for election. “A fair system doesn’t guarantee the pan-dems must always get in,” he rebuts.
“If you are always asking for the impossible, then the only thing that will happen is you perpetuate the fight and becomes a crusade. Who benefit [from] the crusade? The crusaders”
Expand, evolve the Nomination Committee
Ironically, LegCo’s current ability to say ‘no’ to reform comes from previous reforms. Their veto power arises from the gradual transformation of LegCo. They now oppose gradual transformation by demanding all functional seats to be eliminated at once.
Mr. Hoo notes that LegCo has evolved to become more directly democratic. It has moved from all appointed seats to some directly-elected seats and then to the current situation where a majority of seats (40 out of the 70 seats) are directly elected, Mr Hoo says the composition change in LegCo is proof that Beijing allows Hong Kong to move towards more democracy – only if Hong Kong plays by the Basic Law and takes it step by step. To Mr Hoo, the ‘orderly development’ of LegCo shows how the Nomination Committee can be amended to be more democratic in the future.
“If China wants to control the game, why would they allow you to have 40 out of the 70 to be directly elected?”
Ultimately, Mr Hoo believes the Nomination Committee will one day serve the function of a political party nomination committee akin to an electoral college or parliament, where the democratically elected members choose the supreme leader.
In 2005 the Government proposed enlarging the 800-strong Election Committee to 1,600. While the First, Second and Third Sectors were intended to have 100 more seats each, the Fourth Sector (political sector) would be increased from 200 to 700 by including all District Council members.
The 2005 proposal reflects the political blueprint adopted by the Government. Mr Hoo claims the plan would boost the dominance of the political community in the Nomination Committee (then the Election Committee) until finally, the Fourth Sector is the only group left in the Nomination Committee and political parties can have their representatives sit in it directly. If this were to happen, Hong Kong will see a system akin to the West, he says.
Pan-dems are creating an “eternal crusade”
“It is a lazy-man approach to democracy.” Mr Hoo lambastes the pan-dems’ strategy of playing the all-or-nothing game with the Government and Beijing when they voted down the 2005 proposal and threaten to vote down the Government proposal again this time.
Pan-dems today are playing the same game but Mr Hoo believes that it will backfire. “If you are always asking for the impossible, then the only thing that will happen is you perpetuate the fight and it becomes a crusade. Who benefit from the crusade? The crusaders.”
Majority will may be to abolish the Election Committee. However, voting the Government’s proposal down means the Election Committee will linger. The “Election Committee will become the final formula (終極方案) in reality.”
Aspiring to metaphor, he compares the current situation as a father offering pocket money to his son. The father suggests the son to take $50 first and later to get the remaining $50. What pan-dems now demand is to get $100 immediately or rather have nought while to pocket the Government’s proposal, there can at least be $50 now.
“I would rather have ‘one man, one vote’ now than to have 1,200 people in the Election Committee to pick 689,” he grumbles.
Distracted to be destroyed
The endless debate on political reform has strained the Hong Kong-mainland relationship. According to a poll done by HKUPOP last December, 42% of the respondents saw themselves as Hongkongers, compared to 18% who saw themselves as Chinese.
“[Some people] always want [Hong Kong] to be treated separately, always have self-interest come first over everybody else in the same country. And yet, the ironic thing is that the rest of the country is pulling up faster internationally than Hong Kong. Look at Shanghai.”
The debate on political reform also seems to distract the real focus to make Hong Kong more competitive. “Many of them [mainland people] are very well educated, speak better English than us, speak better languages than us. Are we competitive? We are stuck here, we do not even plug into the Pearl River development. It’s not good for Hong Kong this way. It isolates Hong Kong.”
Mr Hoo urges people to pocket the proposal so that Hong Kong can move on. “The way forward is to take this package now. If we don’t take this package, we are going to be giving the opposition what they want, which is an eternal crusade … There always will be 原地踏步 [the status quo].”