South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Michael Paskewitz says the current electoral proposal of having only two to three candidates for chief executive may offer room for the pan-democrats to wield greater influence
Hong Kong’s pan-democrats held out hope that the globally recognised Occupy protests would pressure the central and Hong Kong governments into backing down from the restrictive proposal for the chief executive election in 2017. However, officials, particularly in Hong Kong, have played their cards deftly, and resisted the pressure.
What now? What if there is no change from this hard stance during the second round of public consultation? Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said recently that “the central government had become more cautious over the city’s political reform following Occupy protests”, and that it left “very little room” for changes in the proposal for the chief executive election during this round of reform.
The pan-democrats have already said they intend to veto the reform proposal, when it is put before the Legislative Council, for this reason. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision stipulates that if the proposal is not adopted by Legco, “the method used for selecting the chief executive for the preceding term shall continue to apply”.
It remains to be seen whether the government will offer the pan-democrats some concessions in the consultation period, but pundits consider this unlikely, given officials’ steadfast position during the Occupy protests.
So, can the pan-democratic camp gain anything under the existing proposal? Under the current stipulations for 2017, there would be “two to three” approved candidates for election. All approved candidates would be, at least to some extent, pro-establishment, since they would need at least half of the nominating committee members’ votes to have their names put forward for election by all eligible voters.
The approved candidates would run under a plurality voting system, or first past the post, in which the candidate with the most votes wins, even if he or she ends up with a minority of the total votes.
In a three-person election, the candidates would need to differentiate themselves sufficiently from one another to acquire enough support from different sectors of the public to win the election. In one scenario, if all three candidates were equally competitive, they would require at least a third of the votes, plus one, to win. The pan-democratic camp could support one candidate in exchange for a promise to enact policies they endorse.
Using past Legislative Council elections as an indicator to predict public voting intentions, it is evident that Hong Kong voters on the whole lean slightly towards pan-democratic candidates in local elections. In the 2012 election, they received about 57 per cent of the vote.
The weight of the pan-democrats’ support base – including campaign workers, donors and voters – could have a significant impact on campaigns, with the potential to push one candidate past the threshold needed to win a competitive race.
In a two-candidate election, voting intentions may be different. A candidate would have to garner the support of a majority of the voters to win. This type of election situation could, over time, result in a two-party system. As both candidates would need to develop a considerable support base, judging from the past Legco elections, it can be assumed that one would seek the endorsement of the pan-democratic camp, while the other would woo the pro-establishment camp, since both sides have large support and voter bases.
In addition, a two-horse race would force the candidates to focus more on moderate policies in order to attract enough swing voters to gain a majority. This could mean the pro-establishment candidate would still need votes from those who are not firmly pan-democratic or pro-establishment. Above all, this could result in a chief executive who is less noticeably pro-Beijing than any leader in the special administrative region’s history.
The winning candidate would still be beholden to a significant portion of the nominating committee.
However, the new chief executive would also be expected to deliver what voters were promised or face being voted out in the next election. This would be a sharp distinction from past chief executives, who, first and foremost, have catered to Beijing’s interests.
This proposal would put the pan-democratic camp at a disadvantage, but at the same time pan-democrats would certainly wield more influence than they have ever had in their history.
In the ideal scenario, from the pan-democrats’ perspective, the government would provide unadulterated universal suffrage for Hongkongers. But since the government and the NPC are not inclined to agree to this, even after the massive Occupy protests, some pan-democrats may conclude that there is no other option available.
The pan-democrats could still reap modest policy concessions in future elections with this proposal – one that they could leverage for long-term political reform in the future.
Michael Paskewitz is a government relations specialist and a Hong Kong- Canadian living in Toronto