Saturday, September 13, 2014

Hong Kong chief executive elections-is civic nomination really the best option?

Recently, the Chinese (People's Republic) government has announced some significant changes for the process for electing the Chief Executive of Hong Kong (a head-of-state role similar to governors of states). The main one is that, for the first time, the Chief Executive will be elected directly, rather than by the Election Committee (a 1,200 member group that is not directly elected).

Since this announcement, the main focus of pro-democracy groups has swivelled towards the nomination process for Chief Executive, the main 'devil in the detail' for this proposal. Nominations will require a majority vote of the Election Committee, a group which is stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists, and there will only be a few nominees permitted to contest. The Chinese government also made the cryptically worded claim that nominees must "love the country". 

These significant conditions have lead some to claim that the election commission will only let in pro-Beijing nominees, and that the candidates will be entirely under the control of the current governing establishment. The main demand of the pro-democracy protest groups (such as Occupy Central) and parties is that 'citizen nomination' be allowed. This would involve a quota of citizens being determined, and any candidate with that quota being admitted into the election.

Now, politically, the pro-democracy camp are in a very weak position. They have enough votes to derail the proposal (24 votes needed to block, and they have 27), as it is a change to the Basic Law, which requires a two-thirds majority. However, if they block it, the system will stay as the current indirect election system, a serious blow to the 

Problems with Citizen Nomination

There are, however, some serious political problems for the pro-democracy group if civic nomination was introduced.In short, a majority of Hong Kong citizens back 'some sort' of pro-democracy party at Legislative Council elections (55% at the last election). However, if a popular pro-Beijing candidate was nominated, this majority would reduce significantly.

This is where the main problem comes in. The pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong can be divided into two vague groups. There are the 'moderates', who support a more gradual move to democracy, and the 'radicals', who support immediate moves to democracy. The Democratic, Labour, Neo Democrat,  Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, and Civic parties are more moderate (and have a majority of the pro-democrat support), while the League of Social Democrats and the People Power parties are more 'radical'.

Both factions would be likely to nominate a candidate. The more cohesive pro-Beijing faction would be likely to nominate only one. If votes were the same for the most recent Legislative Council election, the results would look like this.

I admit that this graph is a very, very approximate approximation. It does not take into account any individual candidate factor, it excludes some pro-democrat vote that could not be accurately distributed, and it assumes that there would be no tactical voting. Still, it shows how a united pro-Beijing camp could take advantage of divisions within the pro-democrat parties, and win even with direct elections and civic nomination.

Where now for the pro-democrats?

The plan is a trap for the moderate pro-democrat parties. If they pass it, they will be attacked for selling out, and a pass with no changes or caveats would effectively guarantee that the election would be a worthless match between two pro-Beijing candidates, unless a pro-democrat could be nominated (unlikely). Insisting on a plan for civic nomination would be both a waste of time (as it would fail) and a foolish move even if it did pass (the vote split would virtually guarantee a pro-Beijing win). 

The only hope for universal suffrage in Hong Kong would be an agreement by Beijing to guarantee the nomination of one moderate pro-democrat, or an agreement to lower the nomination threshold so that a moderate pro-democrat could be nominated. Ignoring the prospect of a boycott by the 'radical' parties, this is the main hope for a competitive election in Hong Kong, and also offers the best option for a pro-democrat victory. While Beijing are still reluctant about such a step, if it were introduced, it would be perhaps a 'win-win' for both groups; no radicals on the ballot, and no domination by pro-Beijing candidates.


  1. Henry, hi. I work with your Dad, and am involved in a number of organisations supporting young people. I would just like to say to you that what you are doing is hugely impressive. Bravo. Your blog is interesting, well-researched, informative, well-written and smart. I would like to encourage you to keep going; what you are doing is also providing a terrific and inspiring example to other young people. I'll send a link of it out via social media now. Go well. Michael Short.

    1. Thanks Michael. I hope to keep writing for a while, and I hope you keep reading and enjoying it.


The Editor reserves the right to delete any comments on grounds including, but not limited to, irrelevant, offensive and threatening.