"I realise that some of my criticisms may be mistaken; but to refuse to criticize judgements for fear of being mistaken is to abandon criticism altogether... If any of my criticisms are found to be correct, the cause is served; and if any are found to be incorrect the very process of finding out my mistakes must lead to the discovery of the right reasons, or better reasons than I have been able to give, and the cause is served just as well."

-Mr. HM Seervai, Preface to the 1st ed., Constitutional Law of India.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

My version of democracy v. your version - the Hong Kong experience

Electoral reform is in the agenda of Hong Kong’s Legislative Assembly and is hotly debated in public sphere. Democratic assertions of Hong Kong have attracted world attention lately by the sustained occupy movement spearheaded by the youth of Hong Kong. It showcased the spirit and aspirations of a major section of the Hong Kong people and stood ground against the indomitable Chinese political heads. The movement made an indelible signature in the political and social map of Hong Kong.

The eye of the storm is the election of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong for the impending 2017 term. Article 45 of the Basic law of Hong Kong Hong Kong states that [t]he Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People's Government.
The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures. Specific method of execution of election is provided in Annexure I. Complete understanding of election process include annexures incorporating decisions of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). The language of Article 45 has given enough play for the Central People’s Government to assert its intentions.

“Selected by election or through consultations held locally”- “The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee” – Though there is no mandate so to say that Chief Executive is to be selected by election, NPCSC has decided that it shall be by universal suffrage. So far so good, but as it is often said, the devil is in the details, every eligible voter will have one vote but the candidates who shall be qualified to contest will be pre-screened by a nomination committee. Incidentally, the nomination committee of 1200 members is carefully packed with pro China sympathizers that the outcome of election, whether is it is A or B will be the choice of China and may not be of the people of Hong Kong.

The unrest was on this plan of the Central People’s Government to instill a political process similar to the National People’s Congress. The nomination Committee that was thought to be an interim arrangement, which progressively will give way to a wider world understanding of democracy and universal suffrage, is now here to stay. The reform proposals which were expected to bring the region closer to common understanding of democracy, on the other hand, is creating its own definitions. This realization, coupled with economic, cultural and sociological reasons that a major portion of Hong Kong sought for political self-determination in choosing their political head.

The present reform plan introduced by the Chief Secretary is fundamentally no different but with a new feature of a run off stage in the nomination committee. A candidate seeking to contest should get at least 120 endorsement of the members of the nomination committee, the endorsement may go up to a maximum of 240. Mathematically, this will limit the number of candidate between 5 to 10. There will be a run off election at this stage by secret ballot wherein the members of the nomination committee shall choose minimum two candidates who shall contest for the post of Chief Executive. They can vote for as many numbers of candidates as they wish additionally. It is only those candidates who get more than 50% of votes of the nomination committee who can contest the public election.

The mood of the public is difficult to gauge with demonstrations pro-democracy and pro-Beijing being staged alternatively in the city. One of the rally by the Beijing loyalist by conservative numbering was reported to be attended by 80000 people, but on the sidelines are stories that participants were paid, staffs of industrials houses were mandated to participate etc. The opinion polls by Joint - University Survey on 2017 Chief Executive Election Proposal show a statistics of 43.5% support for the proposal, 36.8% dissatisfied class  and 19.7% undecided group in the period between  20-24/05/2015.

The future of the proposal to be passed in the Council is grim unless the treasury bench gets the support of few from the pro democracy camp. The proposal needs two third votes to get passed. The composition of 70 members Legislative Council with 27 pro-democrats gives them a possibility of veto. A veto foreseeably will put the reform back to square one to the tune that the 2017 election will be conducted in the 2012 format. This will continue till Beijing loyalists get a clear majority in the Legislative Council to pass the reform package. A pro-democrat majority in Legislative Council in coming local body election contested on the platform of Electoral and democratic reform will be the defining moment of the popular sentiments. Nevertheless, the sectoral representation pattern of Hong Kong and the political arrangement at the hand over in 1997 will limit its self-determination to a significant extent.

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