Strictly Come Dancing

By golly they make an unlikely couple, but somehow the pan democratic movement and the administration must be coaxed on to the dance floor together to secure universal suffrage for Hong Kong in 2017.

It’s not going to be pretty to watch. The words ‘ungainly’ and ‘clumsy’ spring to mind. But failure is not an option. It is not hyperbole to say that Hong Kong’s very future depends on successfully finding a way forward.

Let’s set out the problem areas first, taking them in chronological order. For the 2016 elections to LegCo the administration has ruled out any changes that would require amendment to Annex II to the Basic Law. That means no change in the 50:50 split between geographic and functional constituencies. This naturally comes as a disappointment to those who wanted all FCs scrapped immediately, or those who wanted the process to at least begin with a swing to 60:40 or so.

But retention of the structure for the next election cycle does not necessarily mean no change at all at the LegCo level in two years time. Moreover, since the consultation document, the report on it, and the Chief Executive’s report to the Standing Committee all repeat the mantra that progress must be "gradual and orderly" in accordance with the Basic Law, arguably a complete standstill would itself be a breach of the law.

Two obvious changes that could be made under purely local legislation, i.e. without requiring amendment to Annex II, would be to scrap corporate voting in favour of voting by individuals, and to set a minimum threshold for the number of voters in each functional constituency. Nowhere in any document I have seen has anyone set out the rationale for retaining corporate voting. Presumably that is because there is none.

Some fine tuning of the arrangements for the geographic constituencies would also be possible, again without troubling the Standing Committee.

The two problem areas with respect to the Chief Executive election arrangements for 2017 are the composition of the Nominating Committee and the threshold.

It is disappointing that we are stuck with the model of the existing Election Committee as a basis for its composition, as the EC is notoriously unrepresentative. But, whether it stays at the present size of 1,200 or grows to 1,600, the representativeness can be greatly improved if there is a will to do so. The key here will be the actual wording of the Standing Committee decision when it emerges in August as it surely will. It is hard to see Beijing taking heed of Professor Benny Tai’s suggestion to defer a decision for two months – sensible though this might be -- as to do so would risk giving too much credibility to his Occupy Central movement.

If the decision is too prescriptive, in effect killing off the chances of meaningful change, then the jig will be up. But if the Committee is clever – and past form says it can be – then the wording will be more general in nature, in effect throwing the ball back to the SAR Government to come up with detailed proposals to achieve the objective.

Which brings us to the crux of the whole exercise: the threshold. Many people could just about tolerate the unrepresentative nature of the EC while the threshold was one eighth. The reference in the original consultation document to organisational nomination implied that a panel of candidates would be endorsed by the nominating committee as a whole i.e. the threshold would in effect be 50 per cent. There is no such requirement in the Basic Law, yet the chief executive’s report to the Standing Committee also refers to the need "to meet the requirement of the NC to nominate as an organisation". Does that mean end of story?

Sadly it could be, but not necessarily. The same paragraph includes a section which reads "a person contending for nomination has to obtain the support from at least a certain proportion of members of the NC in order to formally become a candidate". There is no definition of "certain proportion" nor is there anything to stop the nominating committee agreeing in advance that persons achieving that certain proportion – whatever it is – would automatically be endorsed. So there could be wiggle room if we want to find it.

But, waltz or tango, it all hinges on whether the two dancers are prepared to embrace and take the floor.