Reflections about Universal Suffrage

On August 31st, 2014, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) made its pronouncement about the selection of the HKSAR Chief Executive in 2017, through a document entitled “Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Issues Relating to the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by Universal Suffrage and on the Method for Forming the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the Year 2016”, hereinafter referred to as “the Decision”.

It was an important day in the history of Hong Kong. So important, in fact, that millions of Hong Kong people proceeded to watch the Miss Hong Kong Pageant 2014 Finals instead of reading the Decision, let alone thinking or discussing about it. The Brave New World is upon us.

Ranting aside, I am writing to convey my thoughts about the situation, and raise some questions in the process.

OCLP Is Doing It Wrong

There, I said it. Some people believe that I’m pro-OCLP. I’m not. But I’m not against it either. 

The problem with the OCLP is that they gave the establishment a break by invoking “international standards”.

“International standards” is ineffective as an argument for a simple reason: standards don’t say anything about the underlying fundamental principles of morality and justice.

Certainly, a respectable standard about democracy and human rights is formulated with some presupposed fundamental principles of morality and justice, but it is not the fundamental principle; it cannot replace the fundamental principles. When we demand that a system meet some international standard, the authority can arbitrarily reject it on technical grounds “because it doesn’t apply to our special case”, as we just witnessed in Mr Leung’s response.

Instead, we need to take the fight to them and directly point out the blatant inequality and manipulative nature of the establishment’s proposal. We need not refer to “international standards” to perceive inequality and contradictions. It would be intellectually more taxing, but ultimately I believe it will be more effective and more fruitful. You can get away on technicalities, but you cannot get away on ethics.

One might observe that the Basic Law clearly states the selection of candidates by a nomination committee as the ultimate aim. What this entails is that we need to also challenge the Basic Law on ethical grounds. We need to keep in mind that the law is not absolute, that it is arbitrary to various degrees; otherwise there would be no raison d’être for a Legislative Council at all. Again, it would be a difficult fight, but it would be a fight that the authority cannot easily flee from.

“Broadly Representative”

The Decision stipulates that candidates to the Chief Executive election in 2017 shall be nominated by “a broadly representative nominating committee” (my italics). A look at the composition of the nominating committee reveals what is meant by “broadly representative” and what values the establishment holds.

There are 1200 seats in the nominating committee, divided into four sectors of equal size.

The first sector, i.e. a full quarter (300), is “the industrial, commercial, and financial sectors”. It is comprised of individuals and corporate members, representing mostly employers, and big-money businesses – in other words, corporate interests. Somehow, corporations, with their concentration of power into private hands, have the right to pick Chief Executive candidates for us.

In contrast, in the third sector, “the labour, social services, religious and other sectors”, the labour subsector only takes 60 seat, yet there is no doubt that non-professional labour far outnumber high management and employers in the society.

This mean that any entity with enough money is given more voice than the people with lower income. Again, note that I’m using the word “entity”: any organization with some kind of “collective will” and a bunch of wealthy people behind it is given more voice than real human beings.

What gives them the right to have a voice at all, let alone more voice than real people?

Take a look at the name of the third sector, too: “the labour, social services, religious and other sectors”. That’s right, this is the “miscellaneous” sector. Not just any kind of miscellaneous sector, but the kind where “dissidents” – people who most strongly oppose the Central Government and the collusion between private power and policy makers – are jammed in and sharing a small number of seats out of 300. Since any person who wishes to run for Chief Executive needs only obtain the support of a little over half the nominating committee, the NPCSC has effectively round the opposition into a minority group and is telling any Chief Executive hopeful that they may skip wooing that group at their convenience.

The 50% Rule

The Decision stipulates, as I just mentioned, that any Chief Executive hopeful needs only the support of over 50% of the nominating committee in order to be nominated as a candidate. In other word, you can become a candidate if you obtain support from 601 or more members out of the 1200 total.

At the same time, the NPCSC wishes for the 2017 election to consist of 2 to 3 candidates.

By the pigeon hole principle, this means that each member in the nominating committee have the right to give their support to at least two candidates.

In fact, some of the nominating committee must support more than one candidate: if each committee member supports only one candidate, then there will only ever be one candidate, as only one person can obtain the support of more than half of the committee.

Effectively, this means that committee members have a right to a Plan B candidate.

What gives them the right to have a Plan B while the rest of the population can only vote for one candidate?

In addition, what message is this arrangement sending to the voters? I believe the message is that “it doesn’t really matter whom you vote for” because you are picking either their Plan A or their Plan B.