Sunshine On My Shoulders

Like shafts of sunshine bursting through the clouds at the end of a storm, some of the recent proposals for reform of the Chief Executive election arrangements bring both light and joy.

No wonder Chief Secretary Carrie Lam is "cautiously optimistic". So am I.

The reason these ideas generate pleasure is not because of the detail, which in some cases is pretty excruciating. But rather because they focus on the only two issues that really matter: the representativeness of the nominating committee and the threshold for nomination.

All the talk of other means of nomination is just so much hot air and a waste of time and energy. Whether candidates’ names emerge from a wide civil process, or political parties, or a Mark Six type lucky draw run by the Jockey Club, they will still have to be endorsed by the nominating committee before they appear on the ballot paper.

The Basic Law is pretty clear and straightforward, it says candidates must be put forward by a "broadly representative" nominating committee. The problem is that the existing Election Committee – which we are enjoined to take as a starting point -- is chronically unrepresentative. Moreover its structure is complicated in the extreme.

The simplest thing would be to make the existing 70 members of the Legislative Council the nominating committee. They are all elected, they are broadly representative, and they will already be in post. If we make CE candidates secure a minimum of 10 signatures (subject to a maximum of 20) then we are likely to end up with three or four runners. If no candidate secures more than 50% of the votes in the subsequent election by universal suffrage, then the top two can compete in a run-off two weeks later. Home and dry.

Second best might be to take the 70 LegCo Members and add the 500 odd elected District Councillors to make a total of about 600. Once again they are all elected, they are broadly representative and by 2017 we will know who they all are. Moreover in the next cycle of elections voters will know about this new responsibility being thrust on their shoulders. The thresholds will need to be adjusted – say minimum 60 signatures, maximum of 120 – but again we can expect three or four candidates.

Third best, and we really are scraping the bottom of the barrel here, would be to accept much of the present election committee as a basis, but then to add to it sufficient numbers of more representative members to paper over its inadequacies. Both Hong Kong 2020 and Civic party member Ronny Tong have put forward interesting suggestions in this area.

Given that politics is the art of the possible, maybe this is the sort of compromise we will end up with.

Then we come to the threshold. It would be absurd to expect every candidate to receive support from a majority of the members of the nominating committee. Such a system would in effect mean the nominating committee was still to all intents and purposes the election committee. The result would be one proper candidate plus one or more straw men put up so they could be defeated.

The embellished proposal – to give each member of the committee three votes – is even more ridiculous. That would only work if the committee remains as unrepresentative as it is now. Then, drawing on the last election for illustration purposes, we know who our three candidates will be: C Y Tang, Henry Leung, and a female clone of the first two. Poor Albert won’t even get a look in.

If the nominating committee has its present degree of representativeness i.e. very slight, then the threshold will have to stay at its present low level of around one eighth. The more reform we get on composition, the more scope there might be for raising the threshold to a higher figure, say 20 – 25 per cent.

The bottom line here is that if we stick with an unrepresentative nominating committee and move to a threshold of 50 per cent, then the election will fail in its main purpose of giving the next Chief Executive the legitimacy and mandate he needs to govern Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Central will be occupied.

But if we make some sensible reforms to the composition, and maintain a reasonable threshold, then universal suffrage will work its magic. And we can all go hiking in the country parks instead.

"Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy", John Denver sang all those years ago. "Sunshine almost always makes me high". It is up to our political leaders, both here and in Beijing, to give us a political system that makes us feel good.