Simon NM Young
Hong Kong Law Journal
August 2015, Vol. 25, Part 2, pp 381-388
In a historic vote on 18 June 2015, the Hong Kong government failed to obtain the support of two-third of all 70 Legislative Council (LegCo) members for its proposal on universal suffrage of the chief executive. Had the proposal been passed, the chief executive would have been elected by up to five million eligible voters in 2017. Ironically, all 27 pan-democrat legislators voted against the proposal, as was expected for many months. They objected to the restrictions imposed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) in its 31 August 2014 decision. In their view, the restrictions were incompatible with genuine universal suffrage because they effectively enabled the central government to choose two to three chief executive candidates. In an unexpected blunder, only eight pro-establishment legislators remained in the chamber to vote in favour of the proposal; the other 31 left at the last minute hoping to trigger a delay to buy time for a fellow legislator (Mr Lau Wong-fat), who was stuck in traffic, to arrive and cast his vote. Unfortunately, the plan was not communicated well to those who remained in the chamber. Four days after the reform vote, pan-democratic legislator, Mr Ronny Tong, announced his resignation from both the Civic Party and LegCo in order to start a middle of the road think tank known as “Path of Democracy”.
A process of reform, which began in December 2013, ended in great disappointment for everyone. With the reform proposal rejected, the chief executive will continue to be nominated and selected by a 1200-person election committee, at least until 2022, and the earliest possible year for realising full universal suffrage of the legislature will be 2024, if not 2028. Many reasons have been given for why the reform efforts failed, eg the lack of mutual trust between the pan-democrat legislators and the central government, the hard-line approach adopted by the central and Hong Kong governments allowing for no compromise or negotiations, the 79-day Occupy Central protests and perceived interference by foreign governments strengthening Beijing’s resolve to adopt a conservative approach to protect national interests, the uncompromising principled position of the pan-democrat legislators, the central government’s indifference to Hong Kong universal suffrage despite outward appearances to the contrary and so on.
Little attention, however, has been paid to how the process of reform may have contributed to the demise of the reform enterprise itself. No public consultation on the process preceded the public consultation on substantive reform proposals in late 2013. Indeed, surprisingly few questioned the process adopted by the government. It is argued here that the nature and significance of the reform exercise deserved a more participatory process than the one adopted, ie one that involved more meaningful contributions from the public at important moments in the process. The quality of a participatory process should not be measured solely by the numbers of meetings held with or submissions received from members of the public. Receiving meaningful contributions at important moments means that the public is consulted initially not only on reform issues but also on draft reform proposals before they are finalised. It also means that the relevant reform bodies should include membership from independent individuals, whether as experts or representatives of the public. The Hong Kong government should also have consulted and secured agreement with legislators on the process of reform before commencing the reform exercise. If the stakeholders agreed at the outset that the process to be followed would be fair and transparent, it would be more likely that they would accept the outcome from that process... Click here to download the article.