Missing The Point

No-one can accuse our politicians of missing an opportunity to – well, miss an opportunity.

Latest to strike out are the Occupy Central activists who endorsed a very narrow range of options to put to a public referendum in June instead of trying to be as inclusive – one should perhaps say "democratic" -- as possible.

But before we get to them, let us go back to the start of the government’s consultation exercise on political reform. The paper which launched proceedings was in at least two respects less than honest.

First, instead of putting forward fresh proposals for creating a new organisation – the Nominating Committee -- it pretended that the existing Election Committee (which had been created for an entirely different purpose) was already in effect the new body, and floated some fairly minor options for improving its representativeness. Bearing in mind that the Election Committee is chronically unrepresentative, this was rather clumsy sleight of hand.

Second, perhaps more serious, the concept of collective nomination of Chief Executive candidates which is not mentioned anywhere in the Basic Law or any guidelines set by the National People’s Congress, suddenly jumped into the arena as a mainstream option -- almost a fait accompli.

And yet despite this unpromising beginning, the consultation exercise did achieve its main purpose which was to draw out all the major strands of public thinking on how we should elect our legislature in 2016 and our Chief Executive in 2017. Somewhere among the 130,000 submissions there should be the answers.

The package of proposals put forward by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) represent the most conservative end of the spectrum. LegCo stays untouched in 2016, candidates for Chief Executive in 2017 must receive the support of at least half of the members of the Nominating Committee which remains essentially unrepresentative.

The problem here is that if we do not make some moderate progress with LegCo in 2016, how can we jump all the way forward to full universal suffrage in 2020?

The proposals with respect to CE elections entirely miss the point of the whole exercise which is to identify a person with a solid mandate to lead Hong Kong. That mandate can only come once the individual has received the backing of more than half of the electorate. But universal suffrage at the final stage is not enough by itself: it will only work if voters have been offered a genuine choice of candidates in the run-up to polling day.

Collective nomination raises the threshold for candidates to 50%. Even conservative voices like Basic Law Steering Committee member Alan Hoo QC have described this as unacceptable, as has Convenor of the Silent Majority for Hong Kong Professor Ho Lok Sang. The latter told a recent RTHK Backchat programme that it was irrelevant whether some Basic law drafters had always had such a requirement in mind because "Hong Kong people won’t accept it".

Taken as a whole, the DAB proposals do not address our governance problems.

This failure by the DAB should have provided the pan democrats with the perfect opportunity to occupy the moral high ground by offering a raft of practical proposals and then engaging the community at large in a debate about what best suited Hong Kong’s circumstances bearing in mind the need to get Beijing's sign-off at the end of the day.

Instead, Occupy Central has echoed the DAB error albeit from the other end of the spectrum. The three options which it hopes to get the community to choose between all include civic nomination, which Beijing has ruled out because it undermines the role of the Nominating Committee and is almost certainly contrary to the Basic Law.

Most citizens are unlikely to waste their time and energy on debating proposals which are not going to go anywhere.

Yet it could all have been so different. More moderate proposals from people like the Alliance for True Democracy, and Ronny Tong and the Hong Kong 2020 group would also draw the community at large into the nomination process either by including all elected district councillors or by providing for a number of the committee members to be directly elected.

By ignoring all these suggestions, Occupy Central has denied Hong Kong people the very thing it claims to be pursuing: a genuine choice. It has therefore ensured that no-one will take the outcome of its referendum seriously.