Has Beijing changed its mind about giving Hong Kong people the vote?

by Cliff Buddle / March 7, 2017 / SCMP

Ten years ago, Hong Kong’s leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen persuaded Beijing to agree that the city could elect its chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017. It was seen as a watershed in Hong Kong’s democratic development, a move which would reshape the political landscape and improve the city’s governance.

Now that the time for that historic election has arrived, Tsang is languishing in prison, convicted by a jury of misconduct in public office. His plans for a democratic election this year lie in tatters. Proposals for universal suffrage were voted down by democrat lawmakers in 2015 in protest at the tight restrictions imposed by the central government on who could stand as a candidate.

We are stuck with an election by 1,194 people, most of whom can be expected to vote for Beijing’s preferred candidate. The result is almost a foregone conclusion. And the candidate likely to win has been careful not to make any commitment to restart the democratic reform process.

All this raises the question of whether Beijing has given up on the idea of universal suffrage for Hong Kong.

Ten years ago, Hong Kong’s leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen persuaded Beijing to agree that the city could elect its chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017. It was seen as a watershed in Hong Kong’s democratic development, a move which would reshape the political landscape and improve the city’s governance.

Now that the time for that historic election has arrived, Tsang is languishing in prison, convicted by a jury of misconduct in public office. His plans for a democratic election this year lie in tatters. Proposals for universal suffrage were voted down by democrat lawmakers in 2015 in protest at the tight restrictions imposed by the central government on who could stand as a candidate.

We are stuck with an election by 1,194 people, most of whom can be expected to vote for Beijing’s preferred candidate. The result is almost a foregone conclusion. And the candidate likely to win has been careful not to make any commitment to restart the democratic reform process.

All this raises the question of whether Beijing has given up on the idea of universal suffrage for Hong Kong.

The ongoing process for choosing the city’s next leader has, sadly, followed a familiar pattern. It is widely believed that former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is Beijing’s favoured candidate. There have been numerous reports of lobbying by mainland officials to ensure Election Committee members nominate and vote for her.

This has proved very effective. Lam secured 580 nominations, 48 per cent of the voters. Her support came exclusively from the pro-establishment camp. If all those who nominated her also vote for her in the secret ballot later this month, she will be only 21 short of victory. Barring an extraordinary shift in support, she is almost certain to be elected.

Beijing’s backing of Lam has seen another candidate, former secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, fall far short of the 150 nominations needed to stand. Ip, a credible candidate, might have drawn votes away from Lam in the poll. But, in her words, she has been “squeezed out”.

That leaves Lam’s biggest rival, former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who received 165 nominations, and former judge Woo Kwok-hing, who secured 180. Both relied heavily on support from the pan-democratic camp. Even if, as promised, the democrats give all of their 326 votes to Tsang, it is very unlikely he will even get close to the 601 needed to win.

Lam is a capable public servant with many years of experience. If she wins, she is entitled to be given every chance to forge her own path. But she owes her dominant position – and likely election – to the decisive support she has received from the central government, rather than her policy platform or popularity. That, as her predecessors have found, will make Hong Kong very difficult to govern.

Just look at what has happened to the city’s first three chief executives after its return to China. The first had to resign, the second became embroiled in scandal and is now in jail and the third is widely believed to have been discouraged from standing for a second term. Read  more…

 

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